"I dream of building a world where no human being ever has to die of starvation," replies Runa Akter, with firm resolve when asked what she wants to do in the future. As Bangladesh is set to graduate to middle income status, the 23-year-old believes that at this point, there should not be a single person going hungry.
But when COVID-19 struck the country and lockdowns were put in place in March of 2020, food insecurity increased. People lost jobs and poverty spiked. But Runa remained resilient and amidst the uncertainty caused by the virus, she always stood beside the marginalised community. As a Community Facilitator (CF) for the Livelihoods Improvement of Urban Poor Communities (LIUPC) project of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), she was involved right from the beginning of the lockdown in the work towards relieving the sufferings of her community in the Jatrabari area of Dhaka city.
"When working during the lockdown, I did not really have any fear. This was work that I wanted to do. The real challenge was the empty roads, lack of transport, and getting past the police and the army. Every time we left the house, we would be barraged with various questions by law enforcers and we had to convince them to let us work," shares Runa. Furthermore, there was also resistance from her landlord as they feared she might infect the people in her building. But throughout all these obstacles, she had one goal in mind. She knew that the people in her community were facing hardship and they needed help. With this in mind, she carried out her services by following all the necessary COVID-19 preventative measures.
At the peak of the pandemic, Runa helped distribute soap and food baskets to the marginalised families. Along with her team, she set up hand washing stations and monitored them as well. She also worked to raise awareness among slum residents.
Listening to her fearless stories in the face of the pandemic makes one awe at her resolve. In fact, Runa Akter has been working tirelessly to bring change in her community for over a decade now through involvement in several other UNDP projects.
"If I did not get the chance to work with the marginalised community, I never would have fully understood their struggles. The more I got to witness their hardships, the more my love and passion grew for the work I do. I am grateful that I have this platform."
Photo: Rashed Shumon