Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all

Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
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The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
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The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
3 / 5
The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
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The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
5 / 5
The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.
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Updated 05 May 2021

Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all

Bangladesh ‘guest house’ reaps Ramadan rewards with free meals for all
  • Akhtar and her team of 16 volunteers feed nearly 1,600 people at ‘Mehman Khana’ every day
  • Plans to run the program for ‘as long as the pandemic continues’

DHAKA: There is a long queue of people waiting outside Asma Akhter Liza’s house in a quaint corner of the Lalmatia residential area of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

The doors of her house will soon open, and Liza, along with a team of 16 volunteers, will begin dishing out free food to the poor and needy in her neighborhood exactly an hour before sunset when Muslims break their dawn-to-dusk fast with an iftar or an evening meal.

The scene has played on repeat since the first day of Ramadan this year when Liza, 36, continued the “Mehman Khana” — or guest house initiative — which she launched during the pandemic and ensuing lockdown last year.

The aim was to provide hot meals to orphaned children, rickshaw pullers, street vendors and other marginalized sections of society severely impacted by the health crisis.

“On average, we feed around 1,600 people every day,” Liza told Arab News.

“We also send nearly 400 food packs to different houses in the area. These were all solvent families, but due to the pandemic, they lost their jobs and source of income and felt too embarrassed to queue up for food,” she added.

Each food pack contains dates, lentils, diced cucumbers, puffed rice, a jalebi (deep-fried dessert) and lemonade. 

On Fridays, the menu includes a beef curry with boiled rice and vegetables.

It costs Liza 50 cents to make each pack, with nearly $500 set aside for the initiative every day.

“I do it with my funds and also through the support offered by some friends and relatives. Sometimes, people from the community help me with basic food items too,” she said, adding that a few businesses had offered to sponsor the initiative. But Liza had other plans: “I don’t want to make it a corporate program with big banners, so I declined their offer.” 

Liza, who has been working with underprivileged children at various orphanages for several years, launched her program to feed two dozen street children in Lalmatia.

After losing three of her newborn children “due to health complications,” Liza said she wanted to help other children in need.

“I could see my children in the faces of these helpless street children, which prompted me to initiate this service,” she said.

What began with free meals for 24 street kids soon expanded to 800 people after “so many started approaching me for food.”

However, soon she hit a roadblock due to a severe shortage of funds even as the number of people in need of aid increased every day.

“I couldn’t continue the services for many days, so I cut it down from a daily program to once a week, on Fridays,” she said.

This year, starting from the first week of April, when the government reinforced the coronavirus lockdown, Liza said she decided to reach out to more distressed people during Ramadan.

Supporting her in the initiative are five women and 11 men who help with the food preps and packing from 11 a.m. every day.

“I found out about this initiative through Facebook last year and wanted to join it as a volunteer,” Aeyasha Ferdousi, 39, a primary school teacher from Kustia, 170 km from Dhaka, told Arab News.

“Initially, I would allocate only a few hours of my time. But this year, with schools closed due to the lockdown... I joined Liza full time,” she added.

Ferdousi says Liza’s initiative has had a domino effect, with plans in place to replicate the idea in Kustia.

“I was so moved by the program, and I want to replicate it in my hometown. With experience gained after working with Liza, I think I can manage it without any hassles,” Ferdousi added.

Another volunteer, 19-year-old Syed Sabet Banani, an engineering student from Chottogram, 245 km from Dhaka, is also extending his support for the program.

“During this pandemic, I had nothing to do except sit idle at home. So, I decided to dedicate my time to people most in need of it,” Banani told Arab News.

Some of Mehman Khana’s beneficiaries said the initiative has been a “godsend for all.”

“This iftar saves me at least 50 cents every day. The money I save helps me provide for my family in our village,” Mohammad Ator Ali, 59, a rickshaw puller from Mirpur, told Arab News.

Another rickshaw puller, Yasin Miah, said the food aid program had been a “great help” to many like him who were otherwise worried about sourcing money for a daily meal.

“I don’t get enough passengers in these lockdown days, and my income also decreased. At least now I don’t need to spend any money for iftar,” Miah told Arab News.

Liza said she has vowed to keep the guest house open for as long as the pandemic continues.

“I am really grateful to my husband and in-laws for supporting me in my initiative. I find peace in this and will continue doing it until life gets back to normal,” she said.


Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts
Updated 09 May 2021

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts
  • The Taliban deny involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year

KABUL: Dozens of young girls were being buried Sunday at a desolate hilltop cemetery in Kabul, a day after a secondary school was targeted in the bloodiest attack in Afghanistan in over a year.
A series of blasts outside the school during a peak holiday shopping period killed more than 50 people, mostly girl students, and wounded over 100 in Dash-e-Barchi, a west Kabul suburb populated mostly by Hazara Shiites.
The government blamed the Taliban for the carnage, but the insurgents denied responsibility and issued a statement saying the nation needed to “safeguard and look after educational centers and institutions.”
Saturday’s blasts came as the United States military continues to pull out its last 2,500 troops from the violence-wracked country despite faltering peace efforts between the Taliban and Afghan government to end a decades-long war.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters that a car bomb detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada girls school on Saturday, and when the students rushed out in panic, two more devices exploded.
Residents were shopping ahead of this week’s Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the blasts occurred.
On Sunday, relatives began burying the dead at a hilltop site known as “Martyrs Cemetery,” where victims of attacks against the Hazara community are laid to rest.
Hazaras are Shiite Muslims and considered heretic by extremist Sunnis. Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the Afghan population.
Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban.
“This savage group does not have the power to confront security forces on the battlefield, and instead targets with brutality and barbarism public facilities and the girls’ school,” Ghani said in a statement after the blasts.
The Taliban denied involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year, when they signed a deal with Washington that paved the way for peace talks and withdrawal of the remaining US troops.
But the group has clashed daily with Afghan forces in the rugged countryside even as the US military reduces its presence.
The United States was supposed to have pulled all forces out by May 1 as agreed with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11 — a move that angered the insurgents.
The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, reiterated in a message released ahead of Eid that any delay in withdrawing the troops was a “violation” of that deal.
“If America again fails to live up to its commitments then the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all the consequences,” Akhundzada warned in Sunday’s message.
He said also that the nation should give particular attention to the healthy and literate growth of children.
The nation “must safeguard and look after educational centers and institutions,” he said.
The top US diplomat in Kabul, Ross Wilson, called Saturday’s blasts “abhorrent.”
“This unforgivable attack on children is an assault on Afghanistan’s future, which cannot stand,” Wilson tweeted.
The Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood has been a regular target of attacks from Sunni Islamist militants.
In May last year, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight raid on a hospital in the area that left 25 people dead, including 16 mothers of newborn babies.
Ghani had blamed the Taliban and the militant Daesh group for that attack.
On October 24, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a tuition center in the same district, killing 18 people in an attack that was claimed by Daesh.


India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount
Updated 09 May 2021

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount
  • India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours
  • Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections

MUMBAI: India’s COVID-19 deaths rose by more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday as calls for a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus mounted.
India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.
India has been hit hard by a second COVID-19 wave with cases and deaths hitting record highs every other day. With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher.
Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown similar to the one imposed during the first wave last year.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4,187 fatalities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see 1 million COVID-19 deaths by August.
Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for overwhelmed hospitals.


Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean
Updated 09 May 2021

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

BEIJING: A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-ton object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

But the US space agency NASA and some experts said China had behaved irresponsibly, as an uncontrolled re-entry of such a large object risked damage and casualties.

“After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere,” the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

It added that most of the segment disintegrated and was destroyed during descent.

The US military’s Space Command said the rocket “re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 p.m. EDT on May 8 (0215 GMT Sunday).”

“It is unknown if the debris impacted land or water.”

Monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said that the location in Saudi Arabia was where American systems last recorded it.

“Operators confirm that the rocket actually went into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives,” it tweeted.

The segment’s descent matched expert predictions that any debris would have splashed down into the ocean, given that 70 percent of the planet is covered by water.

Because it was an uncontrolled descent, there was widespread public interest and speculation about where the debris would land.

American and European space authorities were among those tracking the rocket and trying to predict its re-entry.

Objects generate immense amounts of heat and friction when they enter the atmosphere, which can cause them to burn up and disintegrate. But larger ones such as the Long March-5B may not be destroyed entirely.

Their wreckage can land on the surface of the planet and may cause damage and casualties, though that risk is low.

Last year, debris from another Chinese Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

That, and the one that came down Sunday, are tied for the fourth-biggest objects in history to undergo an uncontrolled re-entry, according to data from Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The uncertainty and risks of such a re-entry sparked accusations that Beijing had behaved irresponsibly.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested last week that China had been negligent, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed that after the re-entry on Sunday.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” Nelson said in a statement.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

To avoid such scenarios, some experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket – which is not equipped for a controlled descent.

“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely,” McDowell tweeted.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless.”

Chinese authorities had downplayed the risk, however.

“The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or (on people and activities) on the ground is extremely low,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into space exploration to boost its global stature and technological might.

The launch of the first module of its space station – by the Long March rocket that came down Sunday – was a milestone in its ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space.


Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID
Updated 09 May 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID
  • He said it was permitted due to coronavirus restrictions and lack of mosques

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti said it was permitted to repeat Eid prayers and sermons three times to accommodate three separate congregations in Muslim minority countries due to coronavirus restrictions and to prevent the spread of the virus.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh, also the head of the Council of Senior Scholars and the Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas, said the decision was also based on the lack of mosques and chapels outside major cities.
In response to a question on the permissibility of Muslim minority countries performing the Eid prayer and sermon three times due to the large number of worshipers in light of precautionary measures and the lack of mosques, Sheikh Abdulaziz said: “It is not permitted to repeat the Eid prayer in one prayer hall for one congregation after another without necessity or urgency,” but added that we are in unprecedented times.
The Grand Mufti said some scholars permitted it when necessary and according to our current situation with the coronavirus pandemic and the precautionary measures, the preservation of public health is one of the main objectives of Sharia law.


Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies
Updated 09 May 2021

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies
  • US, Germany and Poland approve voluntary departure of govt workers from crisis-hit country
  • CNN report: More than 200 staff in US embassy have contracted coronavirus

NEW DELHI: A number of embassies in New Delhi have issued advisories for their staff, giving them the option of leaving India as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the country with no signs of slowing.

Since late April, India has reported the world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus cases. Official data recorded more than 401,000 new cases and 4,000 virus-related deaths on Saturday. Coronavirus positivity rates in seven Indian states, including in the capital New Delhi, have also crossed 30 percent, according to Health Ministry statistics.

As the country faces a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies, and several foreign missions suffer local virus outbreaks, staff members have been allowed to leave the country.

The US, Germany and Poland earlier this week said that they approved the voluntary departure of their government employees from India because of the COVID-19 surge.

According to a CNN report on Saturday, the US Embassy has seen more than 200 staff contract the virus. The US State Department is also conducting a medical evacuation from the country.

The embassy’s spokesman told Arab News that the mission is “closely monitoring the situation.

“We will take all necessary measures to safeguard the health and well-being of our employees, including offering vaccines to employees,” he added.

Citing privacy concerns, the spokesman declined to comment on the scale of the embassy outbreak or the evacuation process.

Meanwhile, Germany confirmed that several members of its embassy staff had returned home.

“The German Embassy has opened the possibility for staff and families to return to Germany,” spokesman Hans Christian Winkler told Arab News.

However, he added that there was no “repatriation process” as “only a small number” of embassy workers have left so far.

The Polish foreign ministry also told Arab News in a written statement that it had “presented employees of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in New Delhi with the option of returning to Poland.”

The statement followed Polish media reports last week saying that a senior diplomat from the country’s New Delhi embassy had been airlifted back to Warsaw for hospitalization after contracting coronavirus.

Switzerland’s embassy admitted that two of its “transferable staff” are in Switzerland, but the country’s ambassador, Dr. Ralf Heckner, said that the two workers had been home “from the beginning of the crisis,” and that no other staff members had left any of the country’s missions in India.

The French Embassy declined comment on whether its staff had received any advice regarding medical evacuations.