"My parents were eager to get me married right after my SSC examination but I resisted. Now they are both very proud of the work I do for my community," shares Ayesha Siddika Shilpi, 20, a Socio-Economic and Nutrition Facilitator (SENF) for the Livelihoods Improvement of Urban Poor Communities (LIUPC) project under United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
At first glance, her demeanour may seem meek. But as she starts describing the work she does, one can sense her passion and tenacity.
"In March 2020, as word of the pandemic spread, misinformation amidst the masses followed suit. This misinformation and lack of awareness remained at its peak among the slum dwellers. I knew that I could not just sit at home while all these people needed help," adds Ayesha. Although her work is mainly related to raising nutritional awareness for pregnant women, during the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, she also helped raise awareness regarding the virus and the necessary preventative measures. Her work was centred on ward number 49 of the Dhalpur area of Dhaka city. But she went the extra mile to help poor communities residing in other areas as well whenever she could.
With the help of UNDP and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), she started personally visiting the slums and raising awareness by distributing informational posters among the dwellers there and using microphones to curb misinformation. People living in slums did not have hand washing stations near their houses, which dramatically increased the chances of carrying the virus inside their homes. In order to deter the transmission of the virus, Ayesha helped build tippy taps outside each house and also campaigned for proper hand washing methods to fight the virus.
"To say it was a challenge working as a frontline worker in an area like Dhalpur which had been a red zone with colossal numbers of COVID-19 cases, is truly an understatement. In the beginning, fear overpowered the poor communities that I work for and they were reluctant to listen to me. It took a lot of time and patience, but in the end, I was able to earn their trust," recalls Ayesha, with a hint of pride gleaming in her eyes.
Currently in her third year as an economics student, Ayesha has a vision for the future. All her dreams revolve around helping the marginalised in her community.
Photo: Rashed Shumon