Mehman is a term commonly used for guests who come to visit a home.
But at Chapainawabganj Adhunik Sadar Hospital, patients and their attendants get treated as ‘Mehman’ by a local voluntary group.
The 100-bed government hospital, often running over capacity, can only provide meals to patients who get a bed in the hospital, according to hospital rules.
Attendants and invalids, who end up on the hospital floor, have to arrange their own food by either bringing it from home or purchasing it from outside.
The voluntary programme Mehman provides attendants and these unfortunate invalids freshly cooked supper at a cost of Tk 5 per head on every Saturday, Thursday and Monday night.
“I have to spend at least Tk 40 if I buy food from outside,” said Merina Khatun, who admitted her teenage daughter Sathi at the hospital on Friday but failed to get a bed.
Merina’s home in Johorpur village in Chapainawabganj Sadar upazila is far away from the district town. So, it is not possible for her family to bring home-cooked meal to the hospital every night.
When this correspondent visited the Sadar Hospital on Saturday evening, he saw many patients and attendants like Merina waiting in queue for the meal after collecting the Tk 5 coupon. Among them were also poor people from around the neighbourhood.
One of the organisers of Mehman Johirul Islam, who lives in Masjidpara near the hospital, recounted how the programme was started by people who witnessed poor patients’ trouble in getting food.
From March 19 this year, they started Mehman feeding about 150 to 175 people each day. Another around 50 people who cannot afford to pay the token money are also fed for free.
“During Ramadan, we provided food for free every night to the poor patients of the hospital,” said Johirul.
Initially, only five people started the programme now about 35 people are on Mehman’s roster, willing to feed the poor patients and their attendants, said the retired government officer.
If more people volunteer to provide food through Mehman, then the initiative can be continued all 365 days of a year, he hopes.
One person at a time takes the responsibility of buying the ingredients of a day’s meal which costs about Tk 3,000, Johirul said.
The meal, often a simple hotchpotch cooked with vegetables and sometimes chicken, is prepared by the hospital cook using the health facility’s kitchen, he said.
People wishing to obtain the meal purchase a token for Tk 5 and bring their own plates, Johirul added.
The proceeds are used to pay the cook and three other hospital staffs, who help with the food distribution and order maintenance, he explained.
Nesaruddin, a pharmacy owner and participant of the initiative, said, “It feels good to be a part of this programme. We spend a lot of money in many trivial stuffs. So why can’t we spend just Tk 3,000 once in a while to feed the needy?”
Dr Jahid Nazrul Chowdhury, civil surgeon of Chapainawabganj, expressed his appreciation for the initiative.