It was a broken-down school with broken chairs and tables. Plaster from the walls, and even the frames of doors and windows, were lost ages ago. Aisles were made with bamboo in front of the school so that people could enter from one side and can go out from another side in an orderly fashion. It was almost 8 am. Some young people were ready to provide warm cloths and medical services as far as they could. Ignoring the cold, foggy and shivering winter morning, many poor and cold-stricken people were waiting near the bamboo-made aisles. Some volunteers were running here and there and others were discussing among the team: how blankets, warm clothes and medical services can be reached to these ultra-poor properly. One volunteer announced, "Winter clothes will be given within a short time. Please maintain the cue. Everybody will maintain the line in the aisle which has been made by bamboo. " All the people came together in a rush to take the blankets and clothes. It was, literally, a tremendous competition- who will go fast, who can take first. Basically, they were frightened thinking that if they would not get blankets! This is because to save his or her life from cruel winter bite this blanket was much needed. In this way, we started our first day of New Year 2016 with pleasurable carnival.
It was a totally different way of celebrating a New Year for me. No firework, no DJ party, no special dishes; about forty young people from different organizations and disciplines, celebrated the first day of 2016 with the underprivileged people. To share our happiness and joy, we became a one with those people who did not have a proper house, or regular meals or warm clothing.
Voluntary organizations like, ASROY, Alor Michil, Icon, Youth Society Foundation etc, worked together to distribute winter clothes and to provide medical treatment and health education to the underprivileged people. They arranged this event at Shetabgang Women's College in Dinajpur, one of the coldest areas of Bangladesh. The title of this occasion was 'Warmth for the Nation and Winter Medical Camp, 2015-16'. Volunteers from different disciplines like medicine, medical anthropology and engineering, attended this event.
As a student of Medical Anthropology, I got opportunity to work with a doctor community for the first time. I have unveiled a truth: how a doctor appears differently in professional life and in philanthropist activities (it is my observation as generally poor people never see the smiling face of the doctor in Bangladesh). It was different face of Bangladesh which all people want to see always.
Since Dinajpur is one of the coldest districts of Bangladesh, we took warmest cloths for ourselves. I took a double-part jacket which I used to put on in Germany when temperature dropped below freezing temperatures. We arrived at Shetabganj early in the morning. Quantitatively, I cannot say how much the temperature was at that time in that place. However, if I say qualitatively, my double-part jacket did not seem as burden to me nor I did not sweat while wearing that heavy jacket. One local volunteer was saying, "Brother, this week, it is not very cold since sun is shining brightly for the past few days."
From this camp we provided three type of services namely, 1) Warm clothes (blankets, sweaters, and other new and old casual wears), 2) medical treatment for neurology, ophthalmology, ENT, cardiology, gastroenterology, gynaecology and obstetrics, orthopaedics, pain, paralysis and so forth and 3) health education like cleanliness, sexual and reproductive health for women, child health, pain, paralysis etc. Besides, patients who did not get treatment were advised on how and from where they could get best treatment with minimum cost.
People from inside the city and periphery came to the camp to take warm clothes and treatment. They thought that through our support they can minimize their temporary sufferings. They demanded sustainable initiatives for them. They also said that inadequate opportunity for quality life is responsible for different diseases. As one mentioned, "We have no arrangement for hot water; everyday even early in the morning and at deep night we use ice-cold water". Another person who lives not so far from this college mentioned, "We have no well-structured house. Our house is like hut. At night cold air enters into our house which gives rise to many diseases. But what can we do? We have no money." They demanded a sustainable solution for them so that they could 'embrace a peaceful death'!
Salauddin Biswas is Senior Research Associate, James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University. Email: [email protected]