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Catholic groups stand with Bangladesh's poor during pandemic

With Covid-19 lockdowns devastating families' finances, Catholics have responded with compassion and care

Stephan Uttom

Stephan Uttom

Published: May 20, 2021 10:51 AM GMT

Updated: May 20, 2021 11:48 AM GMT

Catholic groups stand with Bangladesh's poor during pandemic

Caritas has helped millions of people with aid and awareness campaigns across Bangladesh. (Photo: Caritas Bangladesh)

Ramesh Majumder was hit hard when the Covid-19 pandemic struck Bangladesh in March last year.

The 42-year-old Hindu father of two from the Dacope area of Khulna district runs a grocery store to provide for his family. Due to the pandemic and consequent lockdown, sales dropped significantly. He was forced to work as an irregular day laborer to support his four-member family.

All of a sudden, he suffered severe chest pain and one of his children fell ill with a fever. He went to various government and private hospitals in Khulna only to be refused admission due to the overflowing number of patients.

He traveled to neighboring Jessore district and was able to get admitted to Catholic-run Fatima Hospital. Thanks to its dedicated services, both he and his child recovered within a week and returned home.

The 70-bed Fatima Hospital, founded by Xaverian missionaries in 1958, is one of the oldest Catholic hospitals in Bangladesh.

“Fatima Hospital gave us hope and offered necessary treatment when we were totally hopeless. I am grateful to the hospital authority,” Majumder told UCA News.

We have received food aid from Caritas and a microcredit loan during our difficult time

With the family financially devastated, his wife sought help from Caritas Khulna, the regional office of the Catholic charity.

“We have received food aid from Caritas and a microcredit loan during our difficult time. Caritas staff also advised us how to protect ourselves from the pandemic by using masks, sanitizers and soap and avoiding crowded areas,” Majumder said.

Across Bangladesh, Caritas has reached millions of people with aid and awareness campaigns through its eight regional offices, said James Gomes, director (programs) of Caritas Bangladesh.  

“From the beginning, Caritas Bangladesh has been making people aware of the epidemic. We distributed more than one million masks and sanitizing items to people. Through 80 projects under central and regional offices, we have disbursed aid and cash worth 350 million taka (US$4.13 million) to 56,000 households,” Gomes told UCA News.

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Gomes added that Caritas is in the process of design and inception of innovative projects to support vulnerable people whose livelihoods and income have been hit hard during the pandemic.

World Vision, a leading Christian humanitarian organization, has reached 2.05 million people including 776,903 children in Bangladesh with various kinds of assistance to combat the pandemic.

Church-based medical, lay and youth organizations as well as Christian education institutes have also taken charge to support the poor and needy.

According to the Christian Medical Association of Bangladesh (CMAB), all 20 Christian hospitals operated by Catholics and Protestants have continued to serve people and most collaborated with the government to offer dedicated Covid-19 services including testing, referrals and quarantine.

“Christian hospitals and clinics are located on the periphery, so the Church has used them to raise awareness among local people while serving them. We have provided various healthcare and safety materials and allocated funds to each of eight dioceses for the purpose,” Lily A. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Healthcare Commission, told UCA News.

The commission has assisted in preparing booklets and banners as well as holding seminars to help people become aware about how to cope with problems during and after the pandemic, she said.

“Our annual plan includes initiatives to provide psychosocial support to Covid-19 sufferers,” Gomes added.

Since movement is a problem, we have tried to provide services online

Dr. Edward Pallab Rozario, president of the Association of Catholic Doctors in Bangladesh, said the group has launched telephone and online services for people.

“We have been working to raise awareness through various means. Since movement is a problem, we have tried to provide services online. Families and close relatives can be aware and stay safe as we continue to reach out to them,” Rozario told UCA News.

While Catholic dioceses raised funds and provided support to poor people, parish-based Christian youth groups across the country have been at the forefront of raising awareness in their communities.  

Sandeep Barmon, 34, a Catholic from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Dinajpur Diocese, said he is thankful to the local youth group for making people aware of the pandemic.

“When Covid-19 struck, local villagers didn’t know what to do. Members of youth organizations visited people and made banners with instructions about using masks, soaps and sanitizers and advising to avoid going out unnecessarily. They have done great things indeed,” Barmon told UCA News.

Bangladesh has registered 784,000 cases and 12,228 deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to government data.

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