A nonprofit group strives for zero hunger in Bangladesh

Children gather at a Mirpur site in Dhaka to collect meal packets from Bidyanondo helpers. For many, it will be their only proper food of the day. In the past three years the volunteer group has handed out more than 2.5 million meals. (Supplied photo)
Updated 18 October 2019

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.

“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.”


Asian airlines slash flights to Hong Kong as unrest escalates

Updated 1 min 6 sec ago

Asian airlines slash flights to Hong Kong as unrest escalates

  • The cuts come as Hong Kong police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters trying to escape a besieged university
  • The unrest and an escalating Sino-US trade war has pushed the Asian financial hub into recession for the first time in a decade

SYDNEY: Several Asian airlines have cut flights to Hong Kong over the coming weeks, according to industry scheduling publication Routes Online, as anti-government protests in the city grow increasingly violent and disrupt daily life.

Routes online said latest schedules showed cancelations from PT Garuda Indonesia (Persero) Tbk, India’s SpiceJet Ltd, Malaysia’s AirAsia Group Bhd, and the Philippines’ PAL Holdings Inc. and Cebu Air Inc. .

The cuts come as Hong Kong police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters trying to escape a besieged university, while others armed with petrol bombs awaited an expected operation to oust them.

The unrest, raging for almost six months, and an escalating Sino-US trade war has pushed the Asian financial hub into recession for the first time in a decade.

On Monday, Routes Online showed Garuda has reduced weekly flights to Hong Kong to four from 21 through mid-December, SpiceJet has suspended its Mumbai-Hong Kong route through Jan. 15 and AirAsia has cut flights from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu in December and January.

Garuda and SpiceJet did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. AirAsia said passenger numbers have been lower over the past few months and that it is adjusting capacity accordingly.

A spokeswoman for PAL Holdings’ Philippine Airlines said the carrier was using smaller planes than usual for Hong Kong as passengers were postponing travel due to safety concerns. It has also cut daily flights from Manila to four from five, she said.

A spokeswoman for Cebu Air’s Cebu Pacific said the budget carrier has cut flights from Cebu and Clark through December and January respectively due to softened demand. She said the airline nevertheless launched its Puerto Princesa-Hong Kong route on Sunday as scheduled.

Airport Authority Hong Kong on Sunday reported an October decline of 13 percent in passengers and 6.1 percent in the number of inbound and outbound flights — the steepest falls since the unrest began. It said a growing proportion of travelers were using Hong Kong as a transit point rather than a destination.

Last week, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. said its business outlook was “challenging and uncertain” and that it has cut capacity and delayed four plane deliveries due to falling demand.

Major mainland Chinese carriers also reported double-digit declines in demand on so-called regional routes in September and October as protests in Hong Kong and travel restrictions to Taiwan took their toll, monthly traffic reports showed.

Routes Online said several Chinese carriers, including Air China Ltd. , China Eastern Airlines Corp. Ltd. and China Southern Airlines Co. Ltd. had filed for fresh capacity reductions to Hong Kong since late October.

China Eastern declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. Air China and China Southern did not respond to requests for comment.