The Financial Express

Youths working for others

BEACON providing high quality safety gear to doctors and nurses across the country

Mohammad Saiful Islam | Published: May 07, 2020 11:57:04 | Updated: May 13, 2020 21:59:38

Youths working for others

Just a few hours after the evening on March 25, 1971- the then West Pakistani junta launched an army cleansing operation known as Operation Searchlight. The operation went down to become one of the most diabolical massacre in human history. Fast forward to March 25, 2020, exactly 49 years from that fateful night-- a youth led initiative named BEACON commenced its emergency relief operation on the same historical moment while the country was once again caught up in a mess; only this time created by a natural born pandemic. This operation stands nowhere close to the former one in terms of both magnitude and character. But, something brings them to the same page of the story. That thing is the spirit of the liberation war, the most sacred sentiment of the Bangladeshi people.

March 25 was the breakthrough point in Bangladesh's liberation struggle. This event fermented courage among the Bangalees and spurred the hope for independence. Therefore, the spirit of 71 was born-- a consecrated sentiment that taught the nation to put religion, caste, race, class aside and unite behind a single cause. That spirit instigated BEACON to turn up and aid the destitute people. BEACON operates like a single unified body with passion, pace and purpose and reminiscent of the guerilla group "Crack Platoon", their execution and existence has been mostly silent but impactful. Not surprisingly they aptly use the hashtags #Spiritof71 and #UnitedYouthForCovidRelief as their motto. In these two phrases they capture the zeal of their youthful team.

The story of emergence of this aid group is inspirational, one that ignited by fervent patriotism. Back in 1991, the coastal areas of Chattogram were ravaged by a devastating cyclone. This single incident changed a toddler's life as his bedtime stories transformed from fictional superheroes to tales of heroics of gallant youths who were the first responders to stand by the affected people with relief aid. These adventurous real-life stories jolted the boy's tender mind and made a lasting impression instilling the belief that the energy of the indomitable youth can be salvation to any crisis. BEACON today is the product of that impression and belief and that toddler is today's Ashfaque Kabir, founder and lead organiser of BEACON.

BEACON stands for Bangladesh Emergency Action Against COVID-19. It is an emergency relief fund that aims to aid the poorer sections of society who are the direct victims of this epidemic caused crisis. As the history testifies, youths have always played a pivotal role during crisis moments. Ashfaque knew that just like in 1971 or 1991, the youth will spring into action yet again and that this energy and passion can be leveraged to help mass people. So he shared the idea with his friend Fahim Chowdhury who is co-founder and international fundraising coordinator of BEACON. As both of them completed their education abroad, they were confident that they can mobilise their strong network among foreign based Bangladeshi diaspora to bolster youth effort.

Primarily, they thought to raise fund from both local and international networks and allot them to the youth led communities or organisations which are running voluntary relief programmes. So, basically the plan was not to operate on field but to empower the existing field operations, energise them with fund, ideas and directions. Hitherto, it was just a plan waiting to see how things go. As some more energetic youth came in, the plan took a tangible shape. Nadia Afrin, Diptha Saha, Maisha Ahmed Nandita, Saleh Rokon- all with significant work experience in the field of development and communication joined BEACON as project coordinators and Farah Khandaker, as creative lead.

BEACON is an initiative with laudable vision. It doesn't reach door to door with relief but reach to those youth led local area based communities who are doing so. It has a sustainable goal of upskilling the youth apart from the aiding objectives. Initially BEACON selects effective youth led communities or organisations following a rigorous assessment that has matrixes like the community has to be youth led, passionate for working for the nation, organisationally strong, good work ethic and values along with superior execution capabilities. Another very important matrix is geographic diversity as BEACON aims to help specific communities who are the worst victims of the situation.

After selection, BEACON does not simply hand over the money but asks for project proposal with a well-defined plan about how the fund is going to be spent. BEACON guides them in making a formal planning that is usually followed by NGOs. From writing a project proposal to planning a detailed budget, forming team, assorting tasks, securing best resources and preparing for on field execution- BEACON guides the selected organisations in every stage. In the process, those youths learn how to run NGOs or aid campaigns formally, approach for funding and work with both local and international communities.

Another striking specialty of BEACON is their target population. It finds out those youth communities who can reach a specific section that is directly affected. For instance, cow milk is a perishable item that is day to day produced and sold. A large community of dairy farmers in Araihazar, Narayanganj have now no customer to sell their product. Day labourers who live hand to mouth have lost the source of earning their bread and butter. Similarly, vegetable vendors, municipality cleaners, widows and divorced single women, lower-middle income families, homeless people, physically disabled people, rickshaw pullers, cobblers, dalit community, orphans, marginalised communities, senior citizens-- all these sections of people have no means of earning amid this lockdown. BEACON has till now reached these sections through voluntary youth organisations. Forgotten communities like those of transgender, sex worker, tribal population of hill tracts- are also under the radar. They are soon going to run another project for the garment workers who have lost their jobs, entitled as #ShelaiDidiMoni to help unemployed garments workers, #SaveThem2Save Bangladesh to purchase safety gears for doctors and nurses and #MyZakatFor Bangladesh to collect with a promise to help the ultra-poor.

Up till now, BEACON's enterprise has been commendable as they have reached all eight divisions of the country through 25 youth led communities. Total number of people they have reached has neared 30 thousand mark. But these fancy figure does not show the real picture of BEACON. They are doing much more than this. One heart touching gesture was providing all the team members of late Dr Moinuddin, the first victim of coronavirus among the doctors, with high quality complete PPE sets. In 15 hospitals across five divisions, they have provided safety gears to more than 200 doctors. Another project where they handed over arts and craft materials to some underprivileged children shows the depth of their planning. This was intended to keep them psychologically strong during the crisis. Project coordinator of this project Nadia Afrin said that the result was astonishing for this special initiative.

Tajuddin Ahmad, the first prime minister of Bangladesh, once said, "Work with such dedication that whether you remain on the pages of history or not, your works remain immortal." This statement remains a great source of energy and inspiration for the whole BEACON team. They crave for assisting people but prefer to remain on the shadows and willfully diverting the limelight on their voluntary youth group and its work. They believe in youth's energy, valor and vigour. This belief energised by the spirit of 71 has made BEACON a true beacon of hope lit up by the youthful exuberance. To donate or collaborate with BEACON, one can be in touch with them at beacon.bangladesh@gmail.com

To donate to BEACON's team, one can use these following mediums:

  1. cheque/cash deposit/online bank transfer: Account name: Ashfaque Kabir, account number: 1501203562865001, bank: BRAC Bank, Gulshan branch
  2. payment by bKash:+8801770550132 (personal) 
  3. online contribution from home and abroad: GoFundMe, link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/unitedyouthforcovidrelief

Mohammad Saiful Islam is an MSS student of Mass Communication and Journalism at Dhaka University. He can be reached at msislam8686@gmail.com

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