By Nazmul Reza Rahat
Is it possible to provide a meal having vegetables, chicken curry, beef curry with potatoes in 0.012 USD?
The answer is obviously a big “IMPOSSIBLE.”
But many kids and elders of different areas in Dhaka City wait almost every day, making a long queue with 1 taka in their hand (1USD=84 Bangladeshi Taka). A team of enthusiastic young men arrives wearing red vests to serve food to the children. They might seem like superheroes if you look through the eyes of the kids. The name Bidyanondo Foundation, signifying the organization behind this noble initiative, written in their vests, would feel like a source of reliability. Food in one taka is one of the many projects of this organization dedicated to the deprived.
“My son, who is a driver by profession, does not make enough to feed all six members of our family. So the children wait for their Bidyanondo meal each afternoon,” said Rajia Begum, 51, as she collected two food packets for her twin granddaughters in Mirpur, Dhaka.
Founded by Kishor Kumar Das, a Peru-based Bangladeshi, on December 22, 2013, Bidyanondo (Learn for Fun) Foundation is a voluntary educational organization originating from Bangladesh.
Kishor, a man who came from an underprivileged backdrop, has dedicated himself to bringing light to disadvantaged children. His voluntary organization Bidyanondo works for a happier childhood, battling poverty and social norms for deprived children in 9 districts of Bangladesh.
Kishor suffered in his childhood being deprived of education for financial crisis though he graduated successfully in Computer Science and Engineering from Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET) in 2005. Now he is a corporate professional in Lima, Peru. A part of his income is used in distributing food among the slum children of Lima every week. Kishor is not only a pride of CUET as well as a role model for the youth of Bangladesh.
A mad and dedicated group of individuals is working in Bidyanondo to inspire one nation. It has been operated by 40 professionals, with the support of thousands of volunteers. It has 9 local branches. The mission is to promote humanitarian works at home and abroad by designing innovative and inspiring programs.
“I have my full-time government job for earning money. But I can’t have mental peace with the income,” Asma Akter, a 31-year-old physician employed in a government hospital, said. “Bidyanondo is a place where I can take care of the people who need my help the most.”
Bidyanondo prefers to operate quietly right from the beginning and make a change that can communicate louder than words.
Let’s have a look into a few of their practical projects:
One Taka Meal
One taka meal is a project for underprivileged children below 12 years and impoverished older people over 60 years, where they offer food in exchange for only one taka.
The organization launched this project on May 15, 2016, with just 50 lunch boxes to provide food to such children and ensure their attendance at school. They initially served rice, mashed potato, and vegetable curry in the lunch boxes with just four people. But now, this is one of the most significant projects in recent years.
“As a child, I had to face extreme poverty because my father was unable to feed seven family members. I used to walk several miles to find free meals at temples that were distributed,” said Kishor Kumar Das, Founder of the Bidyanondo, who is also the chief of volunteers in the organization.
“People from different corners of society, regardless of class or caste, take the same meal that was distributed in a temple. This unusual idea motivated me to do the same for deprived people of Bangladeshi society,” Kishor added.
“Charging one taka for a single meal is a symbolic strategy by which we want to establish a sense of ownership in the recipient’s mind,” said Salman Khan, Coordinator of Bidyanondo’s Dhaka branch. “We want to convey a feeling that people are buying the food from us, not asking for it.”
“We have a special cooking team consisting of five or six members. All of them are doing their job as volunteers. We run our food program 365 days a year. Our volunteers work to feed starving mouths on Eid days also”, revealed Salman. Not just food for children, they had a project ‘one glass milk’ for pregnant women.
In 2012, Kishor founded a free school in Narayanganj for underprivileged children.
Kishor dreamt of a world where no kid would drop off from school.
Bidyanondo Schools now operate in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Rajshahi, Chattogram, and Cox’s Bazar. More than 1200 students are studying in these schools.
“None of us talk here. No one bothers here. After 10 years of studying, I have realized that study can be joyful”, said Arif, a former student of Bidyanondo School. “If I don’t understand a thing at school or coaching, I can’t ask questions again and again. Everyone gets irritated. But this is not the case here. They make me understand patiently”, added Priya, a student of class 10.
Bidyanondo also organizes different vocational training for the students.
Bashonti Sanitary Napkin
Bidyanondo is working on women empowerment. Bashonti is a project regarding this. Bashonti, a brand produced by the foundation, offers five sanitary pads at 5taka.
The first 3 lakh Bashonti pads were distributed between low-income families free of charge. They are hiring needy female students as assistants who are paid according to their working hours. Almost 6-7 people are working daily to produce 1000 pads. Production of a single pad costs them 7taka. However, they are selling the pads with a subsidy in 5 packets, costing 25 taka per box.
“Ignorance and fear force women to neglect essential needs, and it is nothing less than a requirement to use sanitary pads. We have started the task of creating pads in the easiest way to eliminate this ignorance.”, shared Kishor.
Bidyanondo Foundation has been working on this initiative since 2017.
Bidyanondo Floating Hospital
Jibon Kheya, the floating hospital jointly set up by Bidyanondo Foundation and Bangladesh Coast Guard, was launched on September 1, 2020, to provide free healthcare to people living in coastal areas and remote shoal regions, according to Dr. Hossain Karim, chief of the medical team of Bidyanondo Foundation. The hospital is staffed by eight physicians, two dentists, and two eye specialists.
“We’ve got an overwhelming response from people in Banishanta Palli (Khulna, Bangladesh),” said Dr. Hossain Karim. He added that as part of the initiative, relief materials and free medicines would be provided to individuals.
Hospital For COVID patients
Bidyanondo has established the Bidyanondo CMP Field Hospital to battle the pandemic of the coronavirus.
About the hospital, Kishor said, “I saw a photograph of a poor man where he died on the street after failing to get a hospital bed during this pandemic. It struck my mind. I felt they who have the capability should come forward to help the vulnerable people facing challenges for treatment. So, we from the Bidyanondo wanted to make an example of hope and inspiration.”
A team of 12 physicians, 16 nurses, and 50 volunteers is providing round-the-clock treatment to the patients. Physicians from home and abroad also join in through telemedicine. Each hospital bed is configured with a central oxygen delivery system.
Other steps in COVID-19
Bidyanondo has taken a project titled. Let’s fight against COVID-19, and they are working on it.
They have sprayed sanitizers at vital, jam-packed points of the city, such as bus stops, mosques, rail stations. They’ve also installed hand-washing washbasins in several locations around the city. Their recent venture is to manufacture PPE for physicians, nurses, and prominent frontline warriors.
“We thought at first about buying it or shipping it. We agreed to produce PPEs within our country and distribute them with the aid of our logistics when few other institutions and garment factories came forward to support us with our initiative,” revealed Salman Khan Yasin, Branch Manager, Dhaka Division.
Other schemes of the Bidyanondo Foundation
There are many programs of Bidyanondo. Bidyanondo has established 5 orphanages, and 3 of them are in remote places of Bandarban. The other 2 are in Cox’s Bazar and Rajbari.
Legal support for needy children is easily accessible at one taka, as well as medical care at one taka. Besides, there are Bidyanondo publishing activities. Distribution of free migration aid for migrant workers and bathing of street children, Books in exchange for old things at the book fair, making notebook using election posters. In addition to free tuition, educational materials are provided.
Wherever love seems to be needed, Bidyanondo’s volunteers rush with food, education, and joy. One day a month, various educational films are shown on the big screen for the backward children. There are libraries not only for the underprivileged but for all levels of readers, which can be used for free. Besides, Bidyanondo has a scholarship program, free university admission program, happiness distribution program, and so on.
They also collect the remains of the great programs to distribute those among the individuals who spend their nights at the station or on the footpath of the city.
Bidyanondo is distributing food among the people in flood-affected regions. Every day, cooked food and water purification tablets are provided in areas that have gone underwater.
Not only that, in 2017, the organization also stood by the side of Rohingyas. Under the supervision of the army, they supplied dry food and cooked khichuri to 8,000 people every day in the Rohingya camps at that time.
Sultana Jannat Shikha, a food volunteer, explained, “We provide food for about 1,600 people every day. We try to feed everyone. However, sometimes there is a financial crisis. Then we manage our own money. It’s like our family.” Asked how they collect donations, she revealed, “We receive grants from everyone at the individual level. But not from controversial individuals. We give receipts to everyone who donates to us online every month.”
Bidyanondo believes that a single organization cannot change the fate of the underprivileged children and impoverished older adults. They’ve just set an example so that others can pursue it and work for humanity.
“We want Bidyanondo to encourage others to devote a certain amount of their time and resources to social causes, “said Kishor. “If they all do their part, there will be no enormous inequality in society.”