Wheel of fortune: Bangladeshi’s low-cost ambulance wins awards

Wheel of fortune: Bangladeshi’s low-cost ambulance wins awards
Safewheel co-founder Faysal Islam, left, stands next to a three-wheeler ambulance that provides emergency health services to the Feni district, Bangladesh. (Courtesy Safewheel)
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Updated 13 March 2021

Wheel of fortune: Bangladeshi’s low-cost ambulance wins awards

Wheel of fortune: Bangladeshi’s low-cost ambulance wins awards
  • Safewheel project provides affordable emergency care to hundreds in remote villages

DHAKA: When Faysal Islam lost a loved one in a road accident in 2016 due to lack of ambulance support, he launched the Safewheel project with two friends to provide low-cost medical services to isolated rural areas of Bangladesh.

On Wednesday, the 24-year-old was named 2021 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year — in addition to winning the regional award for Asia and prize money of $7,000 — for his “innovative approach to community help.”

“One of our co-founders’ uncles died in 2016 because no ambulance was available. This incident prompted me to do something to facilitate medical care for people,” Islam, co-founder and chief business development officer of Safewheel, told Arab News on Saturday.

The initiative, which uses a three-wheel ambulance to provide on-call healthcare, was designed as a “social enterprise” and launched in 2019 by Islam and his university friends Rafiq Islam, 26, and Anas Makki, 25.

However, delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant that the trio could formally launch the project only last month.

“We have been working on this project for the past three years. The pilot program was launched in the Nogaon district in 2019, and it was very successful. We served more than 1,000 villagers with 10 vehicles,” he said.

Islam said that his “dream” is to expand ambulance services to “every village in the country.”

“We are planning to introduce a trained paramedic in each of the ambulances to accompany the patients to hospital,” Islam, a resident of Dhaka, said.

At the moment, Safewheel provides services to nearly 100 villages in the Feni district, 156 km from Dhaka, using one ambulance.

The picturesque Feni district comprises 564 villages, with a total population of nearly 1.5 million, according to government data.

Most residents rely on farming for their livelihood, with a significant number employed in the Middle East as migrant workers. Financial resources are limited and medical services even more scarce.

Islam said that the Safewheel operations were launched in Feni due to its geographical advantage — the area is sandwiched between Dhaka and commercial city Chottogram, and has a strong communication network.

“People from Feni can phone Safewheel’s local office to use the ambulance service. It’s not a free service since we wanted to make it a sustainable model,” Islam said.

He said that some NGOs in African countries had set up a similar program, “but failed in the long run as the funding was limited.”

“We didn’t want to rely on any donations,” Islam said.

However, residents are not complaining. The ambulance’s cost to cover 25 km is around $7, three times less than a traditional ambulance.

In the past three weeks, dozens have used the Safewheel ambulance’s services, with several saying they “might not have been able to afford or receive any medical care without it.”

“My husband works as a daily laborer, and we don’t have savings to spend on medical care. I used the ambulance service during the birth of my second son,” Taslima Begum, a housewife and Feni resident, told Arab News.

Morshed Alam, a 36-year-old transport worker, said that the ambulance was more suitable for the villages’ narrow streets.

“My father had a heart attack last month, and I immediately called the ambulance service. The road to my village home was very narrow, and it’s impossible for a regular ambulance to drive up to my doorstep. If the Safewheel was not there, I don’t know what would have happened to my father,” he said.

Next month, Safewheel plans to add three more vehicles to its fleet and expand coverage to 500 villages in the district.

“Currently, we are focusing on organizing funds which will help us to grow more and expand our service areas. We are expecting some funds from Australia very soon. On March 8, we signed an MoU with the Swiss Embassy in Dhaka for a ‘matching fund’ for our social enterprise,” Islam said. 

Public health experts have welcomed the initiative, describing it as a “big relief” during health emergencies.

“Transporting patients to hospital during an emergency is a serious concern for millions of people. In this situation, this organization came forward with a low-cost solution which attracted huge attention of the local people,” Prof. A.S.M. Amanullah of Dhaka University told Arab News.

Since Bangladesh is a developing country with limited resources, authorities “can’t always extend support to rural people to meet their health requirements,” he said.

“I think the government, local and international organizations and other civil society groups should come forward to help them in extending their catchment area throughout Bangladesh,”Amanullah said.

Every year, the Commonwealth Youth Awards recognize young people from Commonwealth nations who play a meaningful role in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through projects that transform people’s lives in their communities.

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
Updated 13 sec ago

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
  • Ali Harbi Ali, 25, accused of stabbing David Amess to death on Friday
  • His father faced death threats from extremists while working for Somali government

LONDON: The father of the suspect accused of murdering British MP David Amess is said to “despise terrorists” after being targeted himself with death threats by Somali extremists.
Ali Harbi Ali, 25, from London, is being held by police over the suspected murder of Amess on Friday.
Ali is estranged from his parents, the Daily Mail reported, and his father Harbi Ali Kullane is said to “despise terrorists” after his time working alongside the Somali prime minister before coming to the UK in 1996.
A security source told the Daily Telegraph that Kullane was himself involved in countering extremist narratives while working with the Somali government.
The source said: “He was quite involved in countering Al-Shabaab’s message in his role as comms director, and he received death threats from them for doing so, which is common for anyone involved in a high-profile position in the government.”
Ali was referred to Britain’s counterterrorism program five years ago after his teachers noticed his views becoming increasingly radical.
Estranged from his family, the young man was enamored with hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who had himself been jailed on terrorism-related charges until recently.
Choudary’s videos, his former friends told The Sun, turned Ali from a “popular pupil into an extremist.”
Kullane has reportedly been in contact with British security services, who are analyzing Ali’s phone and looking for an explanation as to his movements and thought processes ahead of the sudden attack.
Officials are reportedly not yet clear on why the man chose Amess as the target, but a government insider told the Daily Telegraph: “He was unlucky. He was not targeted because of his political party. David Amess was not specifically targeted.”
Amess, 69, was stabbed 17 times during the attack, which took place during his surgery — weekly open meetings in which politicians meet their local constituents.
The attack has raised questions in Britain over the effectiveness of its de-radicalization program Prevent, which was already under review after a string of other terrorist incidents.
There have also been concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions to daily life might have radicalized more individuals, as people are spending more time alone and online.
“Counter-terror police and MI5 have been concerned for some time that once we emerged out of lockdown there would be more people out on the streets and more targets for the terrorists,” a security source told the Daily Telegraph.

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
Updated 18 October 2021

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
  • Survey: Thousands of Muslims miss out on university every year because they cannot access Shariah-compliant finance
  • Implementation of Islamic loan system a ‘question of political priority,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: MPs, campaigners and Islamic finance professionals will deliver a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday urging him to take action that would end the annual exclusion of thousands of British Muslims from higher education.

A survey by the Muslim Census, published on Monday, found that thousands of young British Muslims choose not to go to university every year because the loans they rely upon to fund their studies bear interest.

“There is a genuine and widespread need for ASF (alternative student financing), and its absence is leading to unequal access to university,” reads the letter signed by Lord Sharkey, MP David Timms, Islamic Finance Guru CEO Ibrahim Khan, Rizwan Yusoof of the National Zakat Foundation and Asha Hassan, a student finance campaigner.

It is religiously prohibited for Muslims to borrow or lend money upon which interest is paid. This means British-Muslim students are forced to pay up to £9,000 ($12,361) per year upfront for their education, as well as cover all their own living expenses.

Muslim Census found that of its survey’s 36,000 respondents, roughly 10 percent missed out on higher education entirely because of a lack of alternative financing options.

A further one in six self-financed their education, which “resulted in severe restrictions with regards to which course and university they decide to attend,” it said.

Extrapolated to the UK’s Muslim population as a whole, these results mean that more than 4,000 potential students are forgoing a university education every year, while close to 6,000 are forced to self-fund.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to deal with the inequity in access to education for Muslims, saying: “Never again should a Muslim in Britain feel unable to go to university because they cannot get a student loan simply because of their religion.”

But nearly 10 years since that promise was first made, Muslims are still being forced to choose whether to pursue an education or stick to the principles of their religion, Hassan told Arab News.

“This is really important to our community, but we’ve so far felt like we have no voice. This letter is hopefully a chance for the prime minister to see that this is a big issue,” she said.

“There are thousands and thousands of students who have the grades, the ambition, the aspiration, but because they don’t feel like they can compromise on their religious convictions, they’re left with no option,” she added.

“Four out of five Muslims who do take out loans feel conflicted by it, but they’re in a position where they feel like they can’t do anything else about it.”

Omar Shaikh, managing director of the UK Islamic Finance Council, told Arab News that the creation of a financing system for British Muslims is “workable” and that its creation is a matter of politics, not practicality.

“UKIFC was appointed by the Department of Education to put together a detailed product that’s efficiently implementable and works at parity with the existing student loans system,” he said. 

“Following various workshops and input from the Student Loans Co., Shariah scholars, the Department for Education and lawyers, we were successfully able to create a workable pragmatic structure. We know it can be done and isn’t onerous to do so,” he added.

“It’s now a question of political priority. We look forward to the government progressing matters, and commend the Department for Education for driving this inclusive policy.”

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat
Updated 18 October 2021

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat
  • France’s Foreign Minister said ambassador’s departure on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of Belarusian authorities
  • Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the emergency departure of the French ambassador is connected with his unwillingness to present his credentials to Lukashenko

PARIS: France says that its ambassador to Belarus has been ordered out of the country.
In a communique Monday, France’s Foreign Minister said that Ambassador Nicolas de Lacosate’s departure on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of Belarusian authorities.
Local media say the move to kick the ambassador out is linked to a fallout over the non-recognition by France, and other European Union countries, of Lukashenko’s re-election in August 2020.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the emergency departure of the French ambassador from the country is connected with his unwillingness to present his credentials to Lukashenko.
“The head of the French diplomatic mission did not express readiness to complete the procedure for assuming office as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Belarus, which is stipulated by international law and generally recognized practice,” said Anatoly Glaz, press secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
France’s Foreign Ministry explained that de Lacoste did not present his credentials to Lukashenko because it was “in line with the common European position of not recognizing the legitimacy of the outcome of the August 2020 presidential election.”
Lukashenko claimed victory in a sixth presidential term but the election was marred by claims of widespread voter fraud. More than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police for protesting against Lukashenko’s sixth term after an election in August 2020 that the opposition condemned as fraudulent and many Western countries refused to recognize as valid.
The French ambassador arrived in Minsk after the controversial presidential election. In December, he handed copies of his credentials to the Belarusian foreign minister, but did not want to meet with Lukashenko.
De Lacoste actively met with representatives of civil society and politicians in Belarus. Among the latest meetings were negotiations in Minsk with activists of the opposition “Tell the Truth” movement, which was closed by the authorities. And also a meeting on Oct. 16 with the ex-leader of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich, who sharply criticizes the current government.
Belarusian opposition figure Pavel Latushko — a former Belarusian ambassador to France — called on the French ambassador to continue his mission from Lithuania.
“The French Ambassador may continue his mission in the interests of developing relations between France and Belarusian society from Vilnius,” Latushko said. “The regime is entering open conflict both with neighboring countries and with the leading states in world politics.”
Calling it an “unjustified decision,” France said it has taken proportionate measures regarding Belarusian diplomats in France. Belarusian Ambassador to France Igor Fisenko was recalled to Minsk for consultations, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said.

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
Updated 18 October 2021

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
  • Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorised northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages
  • "We're not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something," Sokoto's government spokesman Muhammad Bello said

ABUJA: Gunmen from a suspected criminal gang attacked a village market in northwest Nigeria’s Sokoto’s state killing dozens of people, the state government said Monday.
Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorized northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages, but attacks have become even more violent in recent months.
“We’re not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something,” Sokoto’s government spokesman Muhammad Bello said in a statement, adding that the attack occurred on Sunday evening in Goronyo district.
“It was a market day and there were many traders,” Bello told AFP by phone.
Police spokesman Sanusi Abubakar also confirmed that bandits attacked Goronyo late on Sunday.
“Our sercurity operatives are there to conduct investigations,” Abubakar added, without giving details.
Phone networks in the area have been suspended for weeks to disrupt the gangs’ operations, making information-gathering tricky.
A gang raided another village market on October 8, in Sabon Birni district near the border with Niger, killing 19 people.
Since last month, Nigerian troops have been conducting air and ground operations on bandit camps in neighboring Zamfara state.
Telecom services were also shut down in Zamfara, and parts of Kaduna and Katsina states.
Officials in Sokoto are worried that bandits are relocating to the state as a result of operations in Zamfara.
“We’re faced and bedevilled by many security challenges in our own area here, particularly banditry, kidnapping and other associated crimes,” wrote Bello, on behalf of the state governor.
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, he said, had requested “the presence of more forces in the state and the deployment of more resources.”
Last month 17 Nigerian security personnel were killed when gunmen attacked their base in Sabon Birni, an assault the military blamed on Islamic State-aligned jihadists.
Bandits have no known ideological agenda, but concerns have grown of jihadist inroads in the region.
Violence has spiralled in recent months across the northwest, forcing thousands of already vulnerable people to flee their homes in a situation that aid agencies fear risks becoming a humanitarian crisis.
Since January 2020, about 50,000 people fled from their homes in the northwest alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.
And more than 80,000 additional people have fled to neighboring Niger over the past two years.
Increasingly, bandits have turned to mass kidnapping and have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren since December. Most have been freed or released after ransom but dozens are still being held.
The violence is just one challenge facing Nigeria’s security forces, who are also battling a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has killed more than 40,000 people.

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names
Updated 18 October 2021

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names
  • Muslim names including Ibrahim and Yusuf continue to gain popularity
  • Pop culture and royalty informing naming trends for new parents

LONDON: Muhammad was the fifth most popular name for male British babies in 2020, the UK’s Office for National Statistics revealed on Monday.

Mohammed and Mohammad were also among the 100 most popular baby boy names in the UK – ranking 32 and 74 – though neither came close to the Muhammad spelling.

Noah, an important figure in all three Abrahamic religions, was the fourth most popular name for male British babies.

Two other Muslim names — Ibrahim and Yusuf — made it into the top 100 for 2020. All three spellings of the prophet’s name, as well as Yusuf and Ibrahim, have been climbing in popularity consistently since 1996, ONS data shows.

Muslims from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds transliterate the name Muhammad differently into English, but all are named in reverence of Islam’s most loved figure.

Despite being spelled differently by different groups, the origins and intention behind the naming are likely shared by each culture and ethnicity employing it. 

It is likely that the name is even more popular than the ONS rankings suggest, but the methodology of dividing names based on their spellings makes it unclear exactly how it ranks against other top names.

Other popular names for male British babies included George, Oliver, and Arthur. The eldest child of Prince William and Kate Middleton is called George, while the middle name of their third child is Arthur.

Sian Bradford, a statistics officer at the ONS, said: “Popular culture continues to provide inspiration for baby names, whether it’s characters in our favorite show or trending celebrities. Maeve and Otis, characters from the program ‘Sex Education,’ have seen a surge in popularity in 2020. While the name Margot has been rapidly climbing since actress Margot Robbie appeared in the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’”

Archie leapt into the top 10 of baby names for boys — likely because Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle chose that name for their firstborn.