For World Humanitarian Day, August 19, Abeda Sultana Liza, Action Against Hunger’s Supervisor for the Food For Peace Program in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, shares a first-hand account of life as an aid worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is funded by USAID and supported by Action Against Hunger, Helen Keller International, and Shusilan.
The coronavirus pandemic, sweeping across the globe, has led to seismic changes in the everyday lives of millions of people in Bangladesh. It ruined everything we had.
When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, the government imposed several restrictions to curtail the spread of the virus. All of a sudden, streets and building halls emptied, markets and restaurants closed, and offices - once hives of industry - turned silent as staff members started working from home.
But not every worker had the chance to stay indoors and protect themselves and their loved ones from a deadly disease that does not discriminate and about which we still have much to learn.
I am a soldier in an army of dedicated humanitarian workers.
We fight the virus and deliver services to communities during these difficult times. I wake up early in the morning to prepare for what I am going to do during the day, sanitize my motorcycle, and share my morning tea with my family. I spend my day with five other community facilitators, helping poor families meet their needs through cash for work programs and cash transfers, as well as coordinating with public representatives and local dignitaries.
We deal with hundreds of different people each day in various locations.
We do not know who is sick and who is not, but we always make sure to keep a safe distance, sanitized hands, clean equipment, and a big smile.
I use my motorcycle to travel between areas. I talk to people, guiding and supporting them. Our activites enable community members to supplement their own income through direct payments, so that they can afford to take care of their families. Some people use the money to buy food, others use it for healthcare or medicine, and many people use it to support their children to succeed at school and get an education.
But beyond these things, what I believe is that this money brings happiness to families who are living in difficult situations and whose lives have been turned upside down.
Everyone has the right to be treated equally and to receive the same support, regardless of age, residence or social situation.
I never expected or suspected that anything like the coronavirus would ever happen. It is hard, and everyone is tense, but thankfully we are a team that takes care of each other so we can be at our best when we assist our community. What we want are simple things: random conversations with colleagues while drinking our morning coffees, smiles from people we help while delivering services, having afternoon tea with friends in the local market, and enjoying a family dinner after a busy day.
Due to the spread of COVID-19, our work days are getting much longer. Yet, we continue to deliver services because we care about our programs and the people who depend on humanitarian assistance. Everyone is going the extra mile, which is very heartwarming. Your fatigue diminishes when you see everyone carrying the weight, trying to help, and fighting the pandemic all at once.
As I am the only one in my household who goes out to work, I take off all my work gear and shoes and leave it outside the house when I return home. Then, before I even come close to my family, I take a shower. All of my work clothes are put in a bag and dealt with separately. Sometimes I come home very late, but I keep my interactions with my family at a bare minimum.
During these unprecedented times, my professional life has taken over my personal one. It has completely changed in the context of movement restrictions. My fear has taken over. However, I can see the hope - not because I want to see it, but because of what is happening around me. It gives me strength for my work.
Hope is what makes me start my day with a smile, knowing that I am helping people have a better day during this difficult time.
The first thing I will do after this ends is to give a big hug to my family, my team, and all the people I care about. My fight with COVID-19 is not the only battle: I also fight hunger, poverty, inequality, discrimination, and global warming. I want everyone to have a better life. And I will keep on fighting.