It was a huge pleasure to welcome our first OVERSEAS Zoom speaker - from the Rotary Club of Dhaka, Bangladesh, talking about their corona relief project. Having this contact across the miles also shows how great it is to be part of the Rotary family.
Members of our Club recently raised some funds to support work being carried out by the Rotary Club of Dhaka to help those affected badly by the COVID pandemic in Bangladesh, so it was a great opportunity for us to hear more about that project and also the many other projects supported by the Rotary Club of Dhaka.
Our speaker, Rafiqul Islam (known as Rowly), is a software engineer with a longstanding link with Rotary. He started as a member of Rotaract back in 1976, and joined the Rotary Club of Dhaka in 1991; he is a Past President of the club. His club meets in the heart of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh - it's a well-established club which celebrated its 80th Anniversary in 2018, having been chartered on the 23rd February 1938. Rowly told us his club has 55 members and, like us, meets on Tuesdays - which meant that Rowly couldn't speak to us for long!
Rowly gave us a run through of his club's recent projects, the first being a very impressive micro-credit programme which provides interest-free loans to small traders - both male and female. Next, Rowly spoke about two projects that our Club has helped support before - sleeping kit distribution and hygiene kit distribution projects. It was great to see how our funds could be used to directly support these two activities. The sleeping kit project has been running for the last 35 years with support from SCAW Canada. This year alone they distributed 8,000 sleeping kits. With each kit the size of a small child, this was no mean feat to organise. With the support of a Rotary Global Grant and an Australian group, they have also been providing dental care to school children (their ABCD project); so far they have helped screen 3,703 students and treated 2,383 children. The Rotary Club of Dhaka is also carrying out a school eye examination project (SEE) and, for older people, its has been supporting cataract surgery through another project.
As far as COVID is concerned, they have been providing support at multiple levels. The first thing they did was to help increase awareness about the disease through the use of colourful and informative posters in smaller towns and villages. They also supported the disinfection of various communal facilities through another scheme. Next, they supported ICU (intensive care unit) facilities through the provision of masks (jointly done with other local Rotary clubs). And, last, Rowly told us about their food distribution project which, so far, has supported 5,500 families in different parts of Bangladesh.
Finally, Rowly told us about the project that they will be carrying out with our Club's support. There will be two arms to this - the first is the ongoing distribution of food to the rural poor and others severely affected by the COVID pandemic and the associated lockdown. The second arm will be to support those affected by super cyclone Amphan. Although the number of deaths was relatively low (27) thanks to the use of cyclone shelters, many, many people lost their homes and businesses and the resultant flooding is likely to have a huge impact in cyclone affected areas for some considerable time. Rowly gave some quite worrying statistics: approx. 1100 kilometres of road with 200 plus small bridge and culverts have been damaged, 150 kilometres of embankments in 84 places have been damaged, 180,500 hatcheries were washed away, and thousands of households were devastated. Their club has identified around 70 families who, through our support, will be provided with emergency financial support (of around £50 each) - to be used by each family in whichever way is most urgent for them (often to help rebuild their homes).
Rowly was asked quite a number of questions, including about the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh (which he has seen with his own eyes through another organisation that he works with. Our Club showed their appreciation with a warm round of applause. We hope to continue our relationship with his club and hope to also have other speakers around the world speak to us at future Zoom meetings. This meeting certainly set a great precedent!
To learn more about the Rotary Club of Dhaka and its various projects, click here.
Picture: Food distribution to pandemic-affected rural communities. Picture credit: Rotary Club of Dhaka, Bangladesh.