A noble change in dire times | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 24, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:09 AM, March 24, 2020

A noble change in dire times

A cooperative in Bagerhat closes its restaurant to produce low-cost masks

Until March 20, Vumi Book Café and Guest House in Bagerhat were like any other small-scale hotel, serving customers hearty meals and comfortable lodging. 

As the coronavirus infections cases rose in the country, Greater Unity for Reality (GUR), the cooperative society that runs the place, felt the urge to do something.

They turned the café into a facility for producing low-cost surgical masks.

While local vendors were selling similar masks for Tk 20 to Tk 30, the cooperative began selling their product for a price below Tk 10.

''We have closed our café and are only making home deliveries of food," said Mir Jaesi Asrafi Jems, project director of Vumi Book Café and Guest House.

Chief Executive Officer Sheikh Moshfikur Rahaman of Greater Unity for Reality told The Daily Star, "We decided to stop the gathering of customers at our café as a precaution against the coronavirus outbreak.

"Observing that masks are being sold in the market for Tk 20 to Tk 30, and people, including doctors, are not getting enough masks, we started making the product here from March 20."

Three professional tailors along with 30 volunteers are currently working in three shifts from 9:00am to 11:00pm for making the protective gear, said Moshfikur.

"We pay the tailors Tk 2.50 for every mask. At present, we can make a mask by spending Tk 6.50," he said, adding that till Monday they have produced more than 3,000 masks.

"We do not need profit. But our production cost is increasing as we are not getting raw materials like elastic in Bagerhat and have to collect those from Khulna.

"Even if the production cost rises and we incur loss, we will supply masks for a price below Tk 10."

In 2016, they started the cooperative society, which also owns an agro farm and currently has more than 100 members, with a vision to spend a sizable portion of their profit for social welfare.

"Any organisation can collect 500 masks and an individual can obtain only five from us at a time," he said, adding that the district administration, police, government hospitals, political parties and voluntary organisations have brought masks from them.

However, the organisation is now shifting their production from masks to protective gowns, as they feel most institutions in Bagerhat have acquired sufficient masks.

"We have already made two gowns and hope to make more,'' Sheikh Mosfikur told The Daily Star on Monday.

The cooperative is also creating awareness about the virus in the rural and urban areas by making public announcements using loudspeakers, he added.

SM Forruk Hasan Jewel, an advisor of Greater Unity for Reality, claimed that the price of masks in Bagerhat has come down since their organisation started making and selling the product for a price below Tk 10.

''When these organisations come forward, unscrupulous businessmen become alert," he said.

"If a small organisation like us can influence a decrease in price [of mask], then giant organisations of our country can also help minimise the shortage of essentials easily,'' he said.

When asked about Greater Unity for Reality's surgical masks, the civil surgeon of Bagerhat Dr KM Humayun Kobir told The Daily Star the products are of the same quality like those supplied by the government.

"We told our doctors four or five days ago to buy masks from the market. They told me that masks are difficult to find in the market and those available are Tk 70-80 per piece. Now the price has decreased to Tk 15-20 per piece," he said.

Commending the initiative taken by Greater Unity for Reality, he said the organisation also took a gown sample from them.

"We can comment about the quality of their gown once we receive one,'' he added. 

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