Youth in Action
The young soldiers in winter. courtesy: Mukib Mosleh
When Winter Marries Kindness
In Bangladesh, a cool, dry winter lasts from November to February. Average temperatures range between 11 degrees Celsius in Northern Bangladesh and 21 degrees Celsius in the coastal regions. In extreme cases, the temperature may even drop to 3 degrees Celsius. Since Bangladesh is mainly warm and humid, winter is considered the most enjoyable season. A large variety of fish and vegetables appear in the marketplace. Winter in Bangladesh is far from being dull and colourless as special flowers suited to winter, such as sunflowers, grace our gardens. Jujubes and oranges are widely available. Extracting date-juice and bird-watching are common activities. Pitha Utshab (Cake Festival) is a trade-mark of winter in Bangladesh.
During winter, humans being sensitive to cold suffer from hypothermia and other diseases associated with the cold weather. Although Bangladesh does not experience snow during winter, rainfall does occur occasionally, which though minimal when quantified, is significant enough to bring down the mercury in the thermometer and to usher in new rounds of cold spells. These cold waves are blamed for the deaths of many. Like bigoted self-proclaimed religious leaders whipping at innocent women, winter lashes out at those who are less privileged to equip themselves with fancy quilts, cardigans, and the likes.
With such a cold backdrop literally, student volunteers or 'Actioneers' of CommunityAction, a student-run, non-profit organisation, began brainstorming about ways to help. “Winter is about short days in which to benefit the people by helping them out,” says Raiiq Ridwan, an enthusiastic Actioneer and an undergraduate student of Medicine at University of Bristol. That is how “Action Ushnota” was born in 2008 CommunityAction's first year of operation. Through this initiative, Actioneers collect clothes from the privileged and distribute them to the poor in various regions, mainly in the colder regions of Northern Bangladesh. Simply put, Action Ushnota is about progressive redistribution of wealth.
“Hey, what's the use of donating clothes to a few people on a random day?” chimed in a skeptic then and it continues to be asked even to this day.
What would you do if you saw a man drowning? Think about the many others who might be drowning in some other place at the same moment and whom you cannot help, ignore this man due to your “guilt” of not being able to save a greater number of people (which aligns well with the discriminating utilitarianism theory), and add one more to the number of people you could not save (the only difference being that in the case of this man, you had all the options to help)? Actioneers respond in the negative.
Defying all odds in 2011, Actioneers have distributed an estimated 14,000 clothes 75 oercent of which was distributed by mid-December, before the major cold wave hit the country. Striving to find the poorest and coldest regions of the country, Actioneers carried out this initiative in 15 districts, such as Bandarban, Kurigram, Kushtia, Sylhet, Jessore, Feni, and Bogra. Action Ushnota 2011 came to an end in mid-January 2012. Actioneers thank the organisations for donating which include Sunnydale School, Community Service Club of Maple Leaf International School, Renovation, Islamic University of Technology, Shandhani Club of Sir Salimullah Medical College, London College of Legal Studies, EXIM Bank, British Standard School and Overture.
According to a Japanese proverb, “one kind word can warm three winter months." You have done much more, you have made winter bearable for many. So, finally, winter has tied the knot with kindness. PS: Actioneers were the match-makers!
(The writer is an undergraduate student of North South University and an Actioneer at CommunityAction.)