Whyte Avenue Rotary partnered with the Amarok Society and several other District 5370 Rotary Clubs to build the Combined Rotary Women's School in Bangladesh. In the school's latest update, they describe their struggles and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dear Members of the Rotary Clubs of Strathcona, Mayfield, Urban Spirits, Whyte Avenue, Grand Prairie and Hinton,
Our pleasure to share with all of you about the present situation of our life during the Covid-19. Usually we share with you about our progress, success and achievement but this time we would also like to share with you about our challenges & struggles of livelihood during the lockdown of pandemic. The situation has yet not improved significantly in our city although the number of deaths has reduced notable. But infection is still happening. Possibly immunity among the human body has developed to fight against the virus. Because of our work in community people are fully aware what to do, what should not do and able to take the necessary health measures to be safe. As a result, nobody has died because of COVID-19 in our slum.
The starting situation of the lockdown for Covid-19 was extremely bad for us as we had no preparation and had very little saving to buy groceries and other essentials. Children were enjoying the parents at home but immediately shortage of food in family took them back to the reality. All the offices, mills, factories, markets, transportations closed down. Our husbands also temporarily lost job and payments. Many women of our slum including some mothers of our school used to work as part-time housemaid in the nearby landlords’ house. They lost their job.  Many people of slum lived on operating street shops, street tea stall, street snacks but all of them suddenly stopped. Other reason hampered life of many people that street foods barely eaten by people during the extreme infection of Covid virus, so they had to stop selling. Long-time lockdown and restriction in roads caused unemployment of many rickshaw pullers. But the good things are, mothers of our school managed the situation by helping each other, sharing food, sharing meal, lending small amount to each other. Now we want to share with you many good stories of the mothers of our school that kept us alive by receiving & giving to each other. Shewli is our friend who helped 4 families who had nothing to cook for a particular meal or meals. Shewli did not do it every day but she did it when she had some extra food like rice and potatoes. Nasrin said to us, she provided small amount personal loan to 6 neighbors when they had no ability to buy food. One of our graduate children Monoara helped some families to get food support from the Councillor Office. Shirin studies with us she has shared with us that one day she had nothing to cook for her family but a mother who did not study in our Mother School provided some rice and vegetables from her little garden to cook for 2 meals. We have many examples of struggles and overcoming of our livelihood during the lockdown and supporting to each other. We are happy that nobody dies in hunger or had to live without food for a long.
During the crisis of lockdown, we have some experience and learning. Such as impact of our school regarding mitigation of ‘household conflict’. Because of our school, trainings, workshops and awareness household conflict reduced significantly and children are getting loving behaviors from their parents. But in few weeks of lockdown we could hear shouting and impatience in some families. We shared with each other and some of our friends of school sat in our school in a small group. We reviewed our lessons received earlier and found some ways to overcome. Staying home together was a fun at the beginning and we enjoyed but sooner we could realize husbands were not behaving properly with us and children and we also started reacting badly with them. Sudden jobless situation, poor economy and food crisis felt us in anxiety and relation started to fall down day-by-day. Amarok mothers could relate the situation with the learning sessions on ‘Causes of Household Conflict’ in our Mother School. We knew there are many reasons but one of them was poverty & crisis. We understood that the recent food crisis has made us impatient. We decided to discuss and share the matter with the husbands starting with, “if we do such what our children will learn from us”. We arranged discussion with husband individually how to overcome the situation rather quarrelling and it worked in most cases. Our friend Nasrin she first started discussion with her husband and found a way for alternative livelihood. They started to sell cloths after buying from Islampur Market and started selling them by foot in the nearby communities. In few days she involved 2 other mothers with her work and sharing the profit based on selling. Three of our friends have tailoring skills; they started to make child dress like small pants, nappies and started selling going door to door. Now we like to share another story of a mother.
Shirin is the librarian of our school library. In the middle of March her husband left her with children and now lives in a new area with a new wife. Her husband slowly stopped paying money for their expense.  Shirin realized to live on independent earning otherwise no hope for her life. She decided not to welcome her husband in family if he comes irregular and treats her as 2nd wife. She also thought to divorce a case and ask for compensation of her life. Now she lives on her own income, but she is happy though she has to work hard to maintain her livelihood.  Shirin is a regular mother-student in our school and sincere.  She is teaching her son Shofiqul with 4 neighbor children. Her elder son Ariful has started to work in a shop as a part-time basis. She taught him and Ariful could read level of product, able to weight goods and price calculation. All mothers of our school received food relief from Amarok. Shirin says, “Amarok food was very much helpful for my need and was timely”. She is learning sewing and tailoring work from a mother of our school to earn money independently collecting small order from shops or personal order from community people. We have such many stories of helping each other to overcome the challenge and struggle of the lockdown.    
In this year the rain came to us as burden of life. Heavy rainfall sometimes created water logging and felt us in deep trouble. We wanted to keep us clean but the water logging created all mix-ups and polluted the area. It happens in every year but this year the duration of water logging was longer than before.
After a long time, our school has opened from the first week of August for 5 days in a week but only 8 to 10 mothers attend in a group.  Each group attends in every alternative day. The off-day groups take home work from teacher and next day share the home work first. Our teacher provides feedback and encourages the good works. We are doing this because of our safety and our government has not yet announced the opening of schools, colleges or any other academic learning centers. However, we are attending for recovery of the learning we have missed during the lockdown of Covid-19. We need to learn and need to teach children in our mini-school and that’s why we have started learning.
 We maintain health safety & security joining in school. Our teacher has placed a bucket full of water and liquid handwash beside. We wash hand first then enter into the schoolroom. There is a doormat wet with bleaching powder placed outside where we wash our feet and leave our slippers outside. We use face mask and maintain distance in sitting.
Many thanks to you and Amarok Society for giving us such learning opportunity that shows humanity and compassion.   
Love and Regards,
(Shirin, Monoara, Kolpona, Nasrin and Shahanaj
On behalf of the mothers of Combined Rotary Women’s School