From Singapore with love

Cancer patient Rana Shikder being flown to Dhaka from Singapore on May 22. Photo: Collected
Cynthia Goh

At 32, Rana Shikder is waiting for death, but he is content because he is at home.

When he does slip off this mortal coil, Rana will have his loved ones beside him instead of being thousands of miles away in a cold, anonymous hospital bed. And he has Cynthia Goh to thank for it.

Like millions of other migrant workers seeking their fortune, Rana left for Singapore in 2008 even before he sat for his SSC exams.

He returned after seven years to a wife, a son and a reasonable fortune, which however withered away in the next four years as one venture after another failed.

So, in 2019 Rana went again. But within months, he fell sick with stomach pain and chronic vomiting.

After medical tests, his doctors shook their heads and said there was nothing they could do. The cancer had spread all through his stomach.

Distraught and devastated, all Rana wanted was to go home to Karaitala, Narayanganj and spend his last days with his loved ones.

"The image of my mother and son flashed through my mind. There was nothing I wanted more than to be with them in my dying days."

In stepped Cynthia Goh, a senior consultant of the Singapore National Cancer Centre.

She came to know about the situation on May 15. The problem was that there were no flights between Singapore and Bangladesh because of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

She says she learned that regular flights might not resume before June 10. "But that would be too late for Rana," Cynthia told this correspondent in a WhatsApp conversation.

Her team then started making all kinds of efforts to get Rana home.

They contacted the Bangladesh embassy, 'but did not get good response from the high commission'.

Goh then held a WhatsApp meeting with her colleagues and friends in Singapore and they contacted the Migrant Workers' Centre, which works for the rights of migrant workers in Singapore.

"Then we held another meeting with a medical evacuation company to send Rana to Bangladesh. They said it would be costly and someone would have to take up the responsibility of the payment, but they could send Rana home," she said.

The company had agreed to take the payment of 45,000 Singapore dollars (almost 32,000 USD) at a later date.

It was obvious that Rana could never manage that amount on his own and the doctors in Singapore would have to do something.

They had already thought of raising funds through crowdsourcing.

Apart from the funding, problems arose when the Bangladesh High Commission wanted Rana's as proof that he is Bangladeshi.

"We collected all the information and sent it. The High Commission also wanted Covid-19 clearance for Rana. So, we also tested him and submitted the documents."

Then the Bangladesh High Commission said they needed a document stating that Rana would be received by a hospital in Bangladesh, Goh explained.

Fortunately, she had worked in Bangladesh for some time and had contacts.

Goh got in touch with doctors at the BSMMU who agreed to receive Rana and provided the required documents.

Then there were formalities to take care of. Landing a special flight required permission from the civil aviation authority and clearance at the airport.

Goh and her team were able to complete all the formalities and managed to send Rana home within a week of learning about his problem.

"We were able to send him home on the night of May 22," Goh said.

But they had not raised the money as yet.

"We started fund raising on May 22 and by May 25, we managed to raise 60,000 Singaporean dollars (a little more than 42,000 USD).

"We have paid 45,000 Singaporean dollars for the airfare and the rest will be sent to his family."

Rana was discharged from the BSMMU on May 23 and has been living with his family in Narayanganj since.

"I have no words to express gratitude," said an emotional Rana. He is convinced Cynthia Goh and her team were not humans.

"They are angels." 



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