Pro-Beijing groups tear down Hong Kong’s protest walls, raising risk of clashes

Riot police are seen in front of pro-China supporters as they pull down Lennon Walls of anti-government posters and memo outside Yuen Long MTR station in Hong Kong. (Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2019

Pro-Beijing groups tear down Hong Kong’s protest walls, raising risk of clashes

  • The installations have blossomed across the Asian financial center
  • Pro-Beijing city legislator Junius Ho had urged his supporters to clean up the approximately 100 Lennon Walls

HONG KONG: Groups of China supporters pulled down “Lennon Walls” of anti-government protest messages across Hong Kong on Saturday, raising the possibility of clashes with democracy supporters and another weekend of trouble.
By mid-morning, dozens of Beijing supporters had started to tear down the large mosaics of colorful posted notes calling for democracy and denouncing perceived Chinese meddling in the former British colony.
The installations have blossomed across the Asian financial center, at bus stops and shopping centers, under footbridges and along pedestrian walkways.
They have also occasionally become hot spots of violence in the city’s three months of unrest.
Hong Kong’s protests picked up in June over legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. Demands have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
A pro-Beijing city legislator, Junius Ho, who has been a vocal critic of the protests, had urged his supporters to clean up the approximately 100 Lennon Walls around the city on Saturday.
The walls are named after the John Lennon Wall in communist-controlled Prague in the 1980s that was covered with Beatles lyrics and messages of political grievance.
However, in a message posted late on Friday his Facebook page on Friday, Ho said “for the sake of safety” the Lennon Walls would not be cleared up, only the streets.
“We will clean up the environment with a peaceful and rational attitude,” he said.
The anti-government protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing on Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including the right of assembly and an independent judiciary.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement and denies interfering. It has accused foreign governments including the United States and Britain, of inciting the unrest.
The demonstrations have taken on their own rhythm over the months and now tend to peak on the weekends, often with anti-government activists, many masked and in black, throwing petrol bombs at police, trashing metro stations, blocking airport roads and lighting street fires.
At times, they have been confronted by supporters of Beijing wielding sticks.
More pro-democracy protests are planned this weekend including a sit in the Yuen Long suburban subway station, marking two months since activists were attacked by a mob there.
The city’s transit operator, MTR Corp, said it would close train stations near potential protest sites, including Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, for safety reasons starting from early afternoon.
Protesters had said on Friday that while they did not want violence, they would defend themselves if they were attacked.


A nonprofit group strives for zero hunger in Bangladesh

Updated 1 min 16 sec ago

A nonprofit group strives for zero hunger in Bangladesh

  • Bidyanondo provides food to needy under-12 children and men and women 60 years or older
  • In the last three years, Bidyanondo has distributed more than 2.5 million meal boxes to the needy

DHAKA: The time was 2:30 p.m. Small knots of children were loitering around the main street in the Mirpur area of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Suddenly their faces lit up as a brightly painted rickshaw van appeared. The vehicle, bearing the words “Bidyanondo,” was stacked with food packets.

About 60 children from a nearby slum quickly formed a queue, each holding a one-taka coin that would enable them to buy their day’s lunch. For most, this was the only proper meal they could afford in the entire day.

“I come here every day so that my two granddaughters, Raina and Ranisa, don’t go hungry,” said Rajia Begum, 51, as she collected two food packets for the twins.

Volunteers distribute ‘one taka meal’ boxes to children in Dhaka’s Mirpur district. (Supplied photo)

“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 every afternoon.”

A pioneer of the cheap-meal concept, Bidyanondo charges children under 12 as well as men and women older than 60 a token one taka ($1 is equivalent to 84 Bangladeshi taka) for each meal.

The volunteer organization, whose mission is “to foster philanthropy domestically and internationally by designing innovative programs,” spends 28 Bangladeshi taka to prepare the meal it gives away for one taka.

INNUMBERS

370,000 - Bidyanondo’s Facebook follower count

2,000 - Daily recipients of a Bidyanondo meal

84 - Bangladeshi taka equivalent to $1

300 - Total number of Bidyanondo volunteers

The “one taka meal” is the brainchild of 38-year-old Kishore Kumar Das, a Peru-based Bangladeshi who said it was his life’s dream to feed the poor in a way that, unlike begging, did not diminish their sense of self-worth.

“As a child, I had to face extreme poverty because my father could not manage to feed seven members of his family. I used to walk several miles to find free meals distributed at temples,” said Das, who is also the chief of volunteers at Bidyanondo.

“People from different corners of society take the same meal in a temple irrespective of class or caste. This unique idea inspired me to do something in the same way for underprivileged members of Bangladeshi society.”

Besides Dhaka, Bidyanondo — Bengali for “Learn for Fun” — operates the “one taka meal” program in four Bangladeshi cities: Chattogram, Narayanganj, Rajshahi and Rangpur. It also provides food, accommodation, education and medical care to about 300 residents of five orphanages.

“Charging one taka for a single meal is a symbolic approach through which we want to create a sense of ownership in the recipient’s mind,” said Salaman Khan, coordinator of Bidyanonodo’s Dhaka branch. “We want to convey a feeling that people are buying the food from us, not begging for it.”

Bidyanondo’s journey began in June 2016 when it began feeding 30 children in need in Chattogram, in southeastern Bangladesh.

Meals and food packets are prepared at the Bidyanondo Foundation office for distribution among Dhaka’s needy. 
(AN photo by Shehab Sumon,  Arab News)

Within a year, the group was providing food to 800 needy people every day. By 2018, the number of recipients had risen to 1,200. This year, almost 2,000 people every day across Bangladesh are receiving at least one square meal a day, thanks to Bidyanondo’s determination to “relieve the pain of hunger.”

“From cooking to distribution of food, we do everything by ourselves,” Khan told Arab News. “We have a special team of five or six members who cook. All of them are doing the job as volunteers.

“We operate our food program 365 days a year. Our volunteers work even on Eid days to feed needy people.”

Bidyanondo relies on crowdfunding for funds to support its programs.

“We have a Facebook group through which we organize the funding,” Khan said. “Bidyanondo has more than 370,000 followers on its Facebook page. All our benefactors are Bangladeshi and most prefer to remain unidentified.”

In the past three years, Bidyanondo has distributed more than 2.5 million meal boxes to children and older people in need. It has a workforce of 300 registered and non-registered volunteers across the country comprised mainly of students.

The 40 full-time staff members are stationed in the nonprofit’s offices across Bangladesh. A small number of housewives also volunteer at local branches of Bidyanondo.

The idea of selling cheap meals has spread to other countries through Bidyanondo’s network of overseas Bangladeshi volunteers. Das said that pilot programs are being tried out in Peru, Italy, Turkey, Nepal and India.

“Soon we are going to introduce a vending-machine system for food distribution so that recipients will not have to interact with any donor or volunteer. They will simply insert one taka into the machine, which will dispense a food packet in return,” Das told Arab News.

He said Bidyanondo welcomes assistance and contributions from aspiring philanthropists at home and abroad. The aim is not to make benefactors feel proud of donating or volunteering for social causes, but rather to make them realize that such activities are “part of the social responsibility” of the well-to-do.

Volunteers count one-taka coins generated from the distribution of meal packets. 
(Photo by Shehab Sumon,  Arab News)

“We want Bidyanondo to inspire others to commit some of their time and energy to social causes,” Das said. “If everyone does their bit, there will be no huge disparity in society.”

Among those doing their bit is Asma Akter, a 31-year-old physician employed in a government-run general hospital in Manikgonj, 40 km from Dhaka. On her days off, she turns up at Bidyanondo’s local branch to offer free medical consultations to the needy.

“I have my full-time government job for earning money. But I can’t have mental peace with the money,” she said. “Bidyanondo is a platform where I can look after the people who need my support the most.”

Akter added: “Words cannot express the kind of joy I get from performing this social service. It is a very good example of teamwork. Every day I learn from my colleagues here how to spend my time in the service of others.”

Back in Dhaka’s Mirpur district, among the children waiting to collect a meal box that afternoon was eight-year-old Mohammad Solaiman. “My father is a day laborer and mother works as domestic help,” he said.

“At noon they both are busy at work. With my two brothers, I collect food from the Bidyanondo rickshaw van every day. It is very convenient for us.”