Everything you need to know about the Coronavirus

The Coronavirus is at the forefront of discussions and news. There is plenty of information and misinformation out there. Some commentators are panicked, others are ambivalent and feeling distant from the reach of the virus. Here is an overview of the Coronavirus.

What is the coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a virus that displays symptoms like normal everyday cold or flu – fever, fatigue, sore throat, dry cough and berating difficulties. The family of coronavirus included the SARS epidemic of 2002-3 that infected 8,098 people worldwide and caused 774 deaths. Another coronavirus that infected people was the MERS outbreak that began on the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 and still lingers. Scientists have isolated and identified the virus from its family by the name “nCoV-2019”. 

Where did the virus originate? 

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) China office heard the first reports of a previously-unknown virus behind a number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in Eastern China with a population of over 11 million. On 11 and 12 January 2020, WHO received further detailed information from the National Health Commission China that the outbreak was associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan City. The Chinese authorities identified a new type of coronavirus, which was isolated on 7 January 2020.

Scientists have speculated that the virus has either spread from bats or snakes.

Scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology have been researching the connection between coronaviruses and bats. In 2017, after nearly five years of collecting faecal samples from bats, in the Yunnan cave, they found coronaviruses in multiple individuals of four different species of bats, including one called the intermediate horseshoe bat. The genome of that virus is 96 per cent identical to the Wuhan virus that is currently infecting humans. 

What are the symptoms?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a person could be at risk if they have:

  • Fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, after travelling to Wuhan or having close contact with someone who was ill and is now under investigation for the virus in the past two weeks.
  • Fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness after having close contact in the past two weeks with someone who’s been confirmed to have the virus.

Who is most likely to get this virus? 

As of now, the majority of the people who have been diagnosed with this virus are all elder or have been in close contact with wild animals. People who have come into close contact with someone who has had the virus have also been diagnosed.

How far has it spread?

Even though the virus first appeared in China, it has quickly spread to countries like the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, Japan and the Philippines, Singapore, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam and the UAE. As of today, there are over 10,000 cases recorded across China and dozens in other countries. At least 213 deaths have occurred in Chine due to the virus.

What steps are being taken to keep this under control?

China has declared a state of emergency and put multiple cities under quarantine to keep the virus under control. China has imposed travel restrictions on at least 16 cities in the Hubei province. It has become so difficult for China to handle the number of patients coming in for diagnosis that it has begun construction of two hospitals to be completed and in use by next week. The Chinese government has also barred its citizens from booking overseas flights. However, there is scepticism regarding the free flow of information about the virus from China in attempts to not cause alarm or bring further damage to the economy. 

Is the global community doing enough?

Many countries like the USA, France and recently Bangladesh, are evacuating citizens from China. Since there has been confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, the World Health Organization has declared this a Public Health Emergency.

However, must people who have died are the elderly and other medically vulnerable populations with other underlying conditions. Many experts are saying that the likelihood of dying from this virus is very low. Although the virus is spreading rapidly, 2% of those infected have died.

Is there a vaccine?

There is no known vaccine in circulation for the virus as of yet. Given how the virus continues to mutate, scientists say that it is very difficult to find a vaccine for the virus. 

Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses.

What precautions can I take?

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Try not to travel to affected provinces in China and take extra precautions in transport hubs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Should I be worried?

It is important to stay vigilant and up to date about where the virus has spread. However, it also important to filter through the news and check sources to avoid misinformation. Look for updates from the World Health Organisation and other reputable agencies. It is also not a time to be racist towards any group of people and their culture. Stay calm, take precautions- especially while travelling.

Think vaping is safer (and cooler) than smoking? Think again

The satisfaction of your elitist ego when your vape smoke rings cloud your friends’ Snapchat, is immense. While you are blissfully ignorant about the deadly impacts of this so-called safer alternative, your lung cells are fighting for survival. In 2019 alone the death toll is 805—with a median age of 23—according to a widely discussed report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of deaths related to vaping has grown to 12 per week since the publication of the report.

Smoking vs Vaping

Think vaping is safer (and cooler) than smoking? Think again!

Although the trend of smoking has shifted from cigarettes to vaping, a large portion of people still resort to smoking cigarettes. No matter how much smoking is normalized; its harms are just as deadly. The addiction from nicotine that can spike up your blood pressure is often the root of serious cardiovascular diseases. The damage done to your lungs is incomparable because every puff of cigarette inclines you towards death as lung cancer settles in slowly.

Vaping is like the Diet Coke of cigarettes.

You think it’s not harmful because it has no “sugar”, but you are oblivious to the unique harms inflicted. Compared to cigarettes, vaping can be used to take in more nicotine at a time depending on the amount of nicotine you infuse in the juice. Due to the availability of various flavours, vaping is alluring to a lot of youngsters making it more accessible and consumed in a broader market.

Identifying which compound triggered any given reaction involves the variability of individual immune systems, meaning some people have severe illnesses after inhaling something that others tolerated—like gluten in the bowels of a person with celiac disease

Potential health hazards of vaping

Think vaping is safer (and cooler) than smoking? Think again!

In addition to nicotine other addictive chemicals such as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be incorporated in an e-cig. This adds to the list of substances you can be addicted to, increasing potential health complications such as neural performance, paranoia, short term memory problems, psychosis, panic etc. amongst other problems.

Just because an ingredient is “natural” or is safe to smear on one’s face, or to eat, does not make it safe to inhale. Substances such as Vitamin E and glycerin are often present in vape juices which can trigger inflammatory reactions in the lung tissues. The subjectivity of the reactions makes it difficult to predict the severity and extent of the harms.

Curbing the risks

Think vaping is safer (and cooler) than smoking? Think again!

The magnitude of the problem is often overlooked because of the negligence of the stakeholders. If drastic measures are not implemented, the problem will accelerate faster. What is it that can be done? Before placing the product on the market, it’s advised to measure the safety and purity of the substances that are incorporated. The provision of safety certification in vape juices may be a good start. The problems can be mitigated by ensuring that illegal substances such as THC are prohibited in wide-scale selling of vape juices. Overall regulation of the market will assist in the eradication of black market dealers whose prime targets are the youth who can be lured in easily with unknown or creative flavours. The government can always be helpful by increasing indirect tax on vape products or create awareness on the harms of vaping.

Nevertheless, the onus of ensuring safety is on you, the users. Because irrespective of the solutions made, if the users are not careful and sincere about the dosage and usage of vaping, it is difficult to say how much of the problem can be resolved. Since vape is considered a better substitute for cigarettes, you need to use it in a manner that ensures the net marginal harm is less.

Bangladesh education curriculum to undergo significant changes

Big changes are coming to pre-primary school to high school levels’ education system. Whether students will study in the science section or any other section will be determined in class eleven. From class six to ten, everyone will have to learn the same ten subjects.

National curriculum and textbook board (NCTB) is working to refine the curriculum from pre-primary school to high school with such a proposal and plan. According to the refined curriculum, class one, class two and class six students will receive new textbooks next year. Gradually other classes will get new books.

The curriculum will be finalized within the next march and it will be fully implemented by the year 2025.

The number of books will also decrease. Subject matters will change. And SSC examination will be held based on only class ten’s curriculum. Two public examinations will be held in class eleven and class twelve, based on which HSC results will be published.

Two members of NCTB said to sources that some matters are almost finalized, and some are in the planning process. The committee comprising education experts and NCTB officers along with personnel from other levels are working to refine the Curriculums.

Primary school to high school level’s curriculums were last changed in 2012.

Primary level

According to NCTB, there will be no normal examination up to class three.

“The Curriculum is being designed in such a way to promote active learning in the students for acquiring requisite skills.”

According to Professor AKM Riazul Hasan, member (primary Curriculums) of NCTB

Schools up to class three will carry out a continuous evaluation. The books will be designed in such a way so that they can be taught practically. The names of the books may also be changed. For example, the mathematics book may be named ‘Fun in Maths’.

Former chairman of Jessore Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board, Amirul Alam Khan told that those who understand the whole education system should be the ones to design the curriculum appropriate for the day and age that we are in.

There will be ten books from class six to class ten

According to the proposed curriculum, all students from class six to class ten will be taught using the same ten subject. Then in class eleven, an opportunity for choosing sections will be given. Currently, students have to study the same books up to class eight and in class nine, students have to transfer into science, arts or business sections. The proposed curriculum set out the following ten books to be taught from class six to class ten: Bengali, English, Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology, Social Science, Life & Work, Religion, Health Education, and Arts & Culture. Currently, in these classes, twelve to fourteen subjects are taught.

Shahan Ara Begam, principal of Motijheel Ideal School & College has said that the decision of decreasing the number of books is a positive one. But she also said that the subjects should be implemented in such a way that students can learn the Bengali language and other subjects well.

SSC examination to be held based on the curriculum of class ten

At the time, the SSC examination is held based on the curriculums of both classes nine and ten. In the refined curriculum, it has been planned that SSC examination will be taken based only on the curriculum of class ten. A member of NCTB told that skills that are to be learned in class nine are tested in the educational institute itself already. Students get to class ten after passing class nine. Therefore, only class ten’s curriculum will be considered for SSC examination and thus, pressure on students will also decrease. If this is approved, it will be realized in 2024.

Education Course expert Professor Siddiqur Rahman considered the initiative to choose sections in class eleven a positive one. He said that as the country improved itself, the pillar of education must be strengthened in tandem. So, every student should be brought up to be as capable as possible by class ten. To this end, how much science, arts, or business studies should be taught needs to be determined carefully.

Two public examinations in higher secondary school level

If the plan is passed, by the year 2025, students will choose their sections in class eleven. There will twelve papers in higher secondary schools. Among these, Bengali, English, and Information and Communication Technology will be mandatory for everyone. Along with these, students will take three subjects of the section that they choose, each of which will consist of three papers. The class eleven examination will be held on the mandatory three subjects and the first part of each section wise subjects. This examination will be held under the supervision of the Education Board. The results will be preserved by the board. Then in class twelve, the students will sit for the examination on the rest of the subjects. Class twelve’s result and class eleven’s result will be combined to determine a student’s HSC result.

There are also talks of giving some flexibility regarding section choice.

If this is allowed, then students can take a subject from another section along with two subjects of his chosen section if he wants to.

A higher officer of NCTB further told that even though there will be two examinations, students will ultimately experience decreased pressure. The subjects on which examination is being taken at once currently will be divided between class eleven and class twelve.

Professor Md. Mashiuzzaman, member (curriculum) of NCTB told that many matters are under discussion. The curriculum will be finalized in February and March.

Hard time managing the sanitary pads? Here are a few alternatives

When I first got my period, I was 9 years old. My mother handed me a sanitary napkin and showed me how to use it. For about the next ten years, I thought they are the only way to handle menstrual blood. This is true for the majority of brown girls from a middle or upper-class background, even though sanitary napkins can be ridiculously inconvenient. They can cause rashes and infections.  You have to constantly make sure they are correctly positioned to prevent leaking. And don’t even think of swimming or any fun in the water during that time of the month. Yet, most women in this region of the world do not even question why there aren’t better solutions to something that affects half the population.

In reality, there are many alternatives to sanitary napkins, and a lot of them are actually available in Dhaka. While many of these options may sound uncomfortable or fussy at first, it is worth at least learning about them. After all, especially with something as essential and inescapable as menstruation, it is important to make informed choices, even if you choose to stick to ordinary sanitary napkins. So, here are three other methods of collecting menstrual blood that you might want to consider.


Tampons are small, soft “sticks” of absorbent material that are about the size of your thumb. Unlike pads, they collect menstrual blood internally – that is, they are inserted into the vagina and left there to soak up the blood. There are many variations of tampons and just like pads, you should pick the ones that suit your flow. There are kinds of tampons which come with an inserter – which is essentially a syringe-like apparatus that helps you place the tampon correctly – and there are also kinds without inserters, which require you to use your fingers. If inserted correctly and far enough, you should not feel the tampon inside you when you stand or walk, nor should it leak. Just like pads, you must change them every 6 or so hours, depending on the flow. You can take them out by pulling them by the string attached to the end of the tampon. Tampons can be extremely helpful particularly in case of sports, as it allows for free movement, as well as eliminates the risk of rashes or infections.

Where to find them: Unimart, certain Facebook pages such as Quick Mart BD and Fashionavo.

Reusable menstrual pads

A huge downside of both pads and tampons are the environmental impacts of the menstrual waste they generate. Not only are pads and tampons made of plastic themselves, their packaging and wrapping also contribute to the enormous amount of waste produced. Given that a woman goes through more than 250 pads & tampons a year, this number becomes even larger and scarier when we multiply it by almost half the population on Earth. This is where eco-friendly options of menstrual blood collection come in. One such alternative is the reusable menstrual pad. They are exactly like normal pads, except made entirely of cloth. Get started with four to six cloth sanitary pads (make sure you grab the right size!) and all you have to do after use is clean the stains and wash them like normal clothes. Cloth pads are far more comfortable to wear and last 2-3 years, so you’ll feel much less guilty about the environment (and your wallet) after each cycle.

Where to find them: Jatrabiroti

Menstrual cups

Another eco-friendly alternative is the menstrual cup. It is exactly what the name suggests – a plastic cup. Much like a tampon, the menstrual cup has to be folded and inserted into the vagina. The sides of the cup are soft and seals against the walls of the vagina and collects the blood inside. After 6-12 hours, depending on your flow, all you have to do is remove, empty, wash with water and reinsert. After each cycle, it is crucial to sterilize your cup in boiling water as instructed by the product. Used properly and in the correct size, menstrual cups are extremely comfortable, convenient, and easy to use. They can also last up to 10 years, which is a huge cut down on both menstrual waste and money!

Where to find them: Organicup BD

Menstruation is as natural a process as eating, and so it is important to do proper research and make informed choices about how to deal with periods too. As a South Asian society, it is generally unthinkable to put anything in your vagina before marriage, which explains why menstrual cups and tampons particularly can seem like baffling, alien concepts. However, moving past those taboos and myths can only liberate us. Periods are here for the long haul, so explore your options without stigma and find what works best for you.

icddr,b made a breakthrough in children’s malnutrition treatment

icddr,b (formerly known as the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) have made a breakthrough in finding a way to treat nutritional deficiencies or malnutrition of children. 

The main cause of malnutrition is the immature and underdeveloped gut microbes. This results in children’s brain not developing properly, having a low height and weight for age and having a low immune system. Therefore, to fight malnutrition, the right microbes should be fostered which can be done by using a homemade treatment.

The treatment includes very familiar ingredients such as green bananas, soybeans, chickpeas and peanut flour. Simply, consuming the mixture of these ingredients could help to recover the gut microbiota or gut flora in children. A clinical trial has proven that this remedy increased protein in the blood and helps in digestion as well.

This research achievement of icddr,b and Washington University, the USA on microbes to combat malnutrition was highly recognized by Science, a prestigious journal. It was also one of the runners-up in the collection of “10 Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2019”, reported by UNB.

According to iccdr,b, many countries will not succeed in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for malnutrition. But steps are being taken towards this issue. Currently, a clinical study of this remedy is going on with 128 children which will be continued till 2021. If the results are satisfactory, this will be finalized and announced to the mass people.

Bangladesh high court bans single-use plastic in coastal areas

The Bangladesh High court issued a ban on single-use plastic usage in Saint Martin Island and coastal areas. On January 6, this was issued on all the related government officials. It is up to the authorities to make sure coastal areas, restaurants, and other relevant franchises stop using one-time-use plastic products. These products include plastic straws, plates, and other utensils alike. The government authorities have the whole year to accomplish this task.

Even plastic bottles are banned in those areas. Furthermore, the court also banned polythene bags. The concerned government authorities are to strictly monitor its establishment throughout the year.

Facing climate change in Bangladesh: The way forward

A workshop for discussion was jointly taken by Friendship and ICCCAD, a concern of IUB, on Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 at Gulshan 2. The initiative was to establish talks on how Friendship, ICCAD and the local government, regarding how climate change disasters can be better dealt with in the marginalized char areas.

The event was named ‘Community Initiated Disaster Risk Reduction-CIDRR’ which is a concept experimented for several years both in northern and southern Bangladesh. It is tried and tested in hundreds of communities to reduce risk due to climate-induced disaster.

The discussion was preceded by a short documentary on Friendship, a prominent NGO dedicated to spreading dignity, hope and opportunity in the most remote and inaccessible char islands, riverbanks, and coastal banks of Bangladesh.

Kazi Amdadul Hoque, director of climate change adaptation and disaster management at Friendship, then opened the floor by elaborating on the predicaments which arise in the disaster-prone areas of Bangladesh. In response to such disasters, Friendship has adapted the Community Initiated Disaster Risk Reduction (CIDRR) approach, which aims to mitigate hazards by enhancing the capacity of the community to take initiatives independently through preparedness, responsiveness and resilient activities. The approach works by creating joint planning, shared responsibility, and continuous collaboration between NGO, community, and the local government.

Issues arose in the session regarding insufficient funds to tackle crisis effectively and work hand-in-hand with the local government.

In response, Kazi Amdadul Haque simply referred back to the CIDRR strategy saying, “Friendship works together with both the local government and the community, thus coordinating and integrating aid programs to expand the effectiveness and financial capacity as a whole to maximize benefit; a strategy which has worked very well so far and shown much fruition.”

International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), is an environmental research institute established in 2009. Keynote speakers in the event from ICCCAD included Dr M Feisal Rahman, research coordinator and Tania Ahmed, research officer.

They acknowledged some of the char areas most affected by flooding are Gaibandha, Kurigram, and cyclone, salinity and water-logging affected Satkhira and Patuakhali where Friendship experimented CIDRR approach. In such flood-prone areas, land hospitals and floating hospitals were set up by the NGO to aid the people affected. Construction methods and lifestyle practices are now in keeping with more climate-resilient methods, thereby vastly reducing if not eliminating the impacts of climate change effects.

Additionally, mangrove trees a mangrove afforestation project is also in place to prevent erosion and diminish cyclone damage in the country’s southern, mangrove regions. Water, sanitation and hygiene installations, awareness campaigns and training also prevent contamination of water bodies and support healthier lifestyles. People who lost land, property and livelihoods to floods were offered enrollment in entrepreneurship programs and alternative income-generating activities to recover losses. Moreover, the NGO also sat with the local government and the community members to map future course of action and possible solutions to mitigate probable risk and damage. Dr M Feisal Rahman conclusively defined that resilience is the adaptive capacity of the community which CIDRR aims to develop.

Dr M Feisal Rahman highlighted the importance of empowering ‘agency’ which he defined as the ability of people to make a free choice. He said that a community can be empowered by making individuals work in more interactive settings. He said field surveys prove that community members are more aware of their rights today and felt more confident to approach officials with their issues.

Several observations were made by Dr Saleemul Huq, director of ICCAD, who began by clearing distinguishing the impact from disaster impacts such as immediate floods and cyclones, and non-disaster impacts which comes in the form of slow emergencies like water-level rise. He said, “Bangladesh is a country which remains quite vulnerable to climate change. The government is well concerned about this as well as NGOs, but with that concern, we must also change how we conceptualize planning methods. Instead of reducing our vulnerability to disasters and non-disasters, our resilience towards such disasters should be given a higher priority.” He concluded with advice on how project funding should be raised beyond the expiry of project durations to sustain positive impact.

Key discussant Dr A Atiq Rahman, executive director at Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, pressed on how most aid efforts were focused on immediate results rather than on long term solutions.

“The local government has chronically suffered from underfunding, which is a problem very well understood but difficult to solve. Rather than bringing shelter to people, we should instead bring people to shelter.”

He said,

He suggested, as had many other speakers in the discussion panel, the local government needs to be strengthened to make real progress in disaster afflicted communities.

Experiences were shared by several chairmen of Union Parishads (sub-districts) of their involvement with Friendship in tackling disasters in their respective areas. They proved grateful on how the NGO has initiated community involvement in focus group discussions, on how to best tackle upcoming crisis in the vulnerable char areas. They hoped for continual support and involvement of the NGO as the crisis in the concerned areas persist.

Dr Fazle Rabbi Sadeque Ahmed, director of environmental and climate change, PKSF, put forward very pressing issues regarding communities afflicted with flood, cyclone, and other natural disasters. As per his conclusive advise that “Along with prioritizing goal-based projects, we should focus a little less on new mechanisms and work towards maximizing the existing ones.”

To know more on climate change and disaster management activities in Bangladesh, log on to www.friendship.ngo and www.icccad.net

Why burning leaves in the winter is a bad idea

As winter falls, it brings a couple of environmental concerns. A common practice during this time is burning leaves. Since the percentage of precipitation is the lowest during winter, the weather tends to get drier throughout the season. The wind blows dust, fine particles and smoke from one area to another. And it contributes to air pollution.

Burning leaves may seem like an innocuous practice. But it not only causes air pollution, but also holds the potential to cause respiratory illness. It can even cause cancer with the dangerous particles present in the smoke.

Leaf burning: Health Hazard

Leaf burning is illegal & prohibited in most municipal areas. And there are specific guidelines from the Fire Department about leaf disposal. But unfortunately, open leaf-burning is a very common practice during winter in Dhaka. And almost nobody seems to care about it.

According to a paper published in the Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association 27 (6), 1977: leaf burning generates dangerously large quantities of carbon monoxide, particulates, and at least seven proven carcinogens. Another study concludes that open leaf burning under normal conditions represent a significant health hazard for people suffering from asthma.

In an ideal environment, leaves would fall on the ground and naturally decompose. Thus it would return the elements to nature in a safe manner. In contrast, the burning of leaves releases harmful gases. Not to mention the metals, organic acids, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and other harmful agents. 

Suffice to say that inhaling these chemical species will lead to breathing problems. Especially for those who are already suffering from respiratory complications. The problem of leaf-burning is more aggravated as people tend to burn other things in the process; more often plastics, polythene bags and household garbage. Burning of plastics can release dioxins which are “highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems and also damage the immune system.”

Air Pollution

About three weeks ago, Dhaka city ranked the worst in the world in terms of air quality. Even today, the US AQI value of Dhaka ranges within 120-250. To note, there are six levels of air quality; any score above 200 indicates air that is very unhealthy to breathe in.

Normally, sporadic leaf-burning does not cause any major issue. But when it is carried out on a regular basis in one geographic area, it can contribute to the release of air particles that exceed the air quality standard. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “…leaf and yard waste burning simultaneously in a particular locale can cause air pollution rivalling that from factories and motor vehicles.”

Such rampant burning of garbage, leaves and waste materials on the city roads is an extremely bad practice. And it has a direct impact on the elderly, children and immuno-compromised people. It is a practice that needs to stop immediately, both by the road-cleaners and also by the city-dwellers. There are easier ways to deal with this kind of waste.

Alternatives to burning leaves

Leaf as a biomaterial can be easily decomposed by the soil bacteria. And it can naturally improve soil quality. Instead of burning the leaves, this precious biomass material can be put into the ground by digging up a small space in the soil. And the resulting compost can actually work as a fertilizer. In many cities, City Corporation schedules a specific time to clean up and collect leaf and yard wastes. We can also adopt this system.

Whatever the case is, burning leaves in city areas is not a solution for waste disposal. Because it is hazardous and dangerous. We need to do a favour for our city by raising awareness among people about air pollution and stopping the bad practices as much as we can.

Digital Khichuri Challenge, 2019: A celebration of diversity

The grand finale of the highly anticipated “Digital Khichuri Challenge,2019”; took place on 11th December 2019; in the wonderful ambiance of ICT tower Auditorium, Agargaon.

The theme of this year’s challenge was, “Creating digital literacy among the migrant workers.” 9 finalists were selected for pitching their ideas in the grand finale round.

About Digital Khichuri Challenge

Upon hearing the word khichuri, a wholesome mixture comes to mind. And the idea and naming of the khichuri challenge also promotes a similar mixture. It was initiated to promote diversity and to prevent violent extremism.

The integration of diversity and pluralism was the core purpose. And hence the name ‘Digital khichuri Challenge’. The challenge has a successful past record of events. And it is now supported by Facebook,  Startup Bangladesh and ICT division.

About this year’s Challenge

This year, the theme of the Dhaka challenge was ‘Digital literacy for the migrants.’ The migrants are one of the driving forces of our economy. However, for a lack of digital literacy, they usually don’t have a refined online presence.

From a huge number of applications, 9 teams made it to the Grand Finale. They underwent a grooming and boot camping session for 3 days.

How the event unfolded

Sonia Mehzabin, Operation Manager, UNDP, initiated the event. She recounted how it all started and thanked the organizers and sponsors for making it possible. Then the audience enjoyed a short video rundown of the previous events; including the success stories of teams and the event.

Digital Khichuri Challenge, 2019: A celebration of diversity

But the showstopper was the storytelling session of a migrant worker; ‘Rehana.’

“Nobody thinks about us. I am really happy people are thinking about us now. The troubles we face, the difficulties cannot be expressed in words.”   

The pitches of the 9 teams came after this storytelling session. The organizer had kept entertainment as a priority. So an amazing beatboxing performance by Beatboxbd followed.

The ending session

Our honorable ICT minister Zunayed Ahmed Palak was the chief guest of the ending ceremony. In his speech, he remarked:

“Our payment comes from these migrant workers. So, it is our responsibility to make things easier for them. Also, our government is patronizing technology and startups. And the winning ideas will get all kinds of support.”

Digital Khichuri Challenge, 2019: A celebration of diversity

 Nazrul Islam, DGFEA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with Dr. Nurul Islam had also graced the event with their speeches and inspiring words.     

The Winners of Khichuri Challenge 2019

Digital Khichuri Challenge, 2019: A celebration of diversity

Winners were selected from 2 categories- Student and Startup.

Champion from student section was Team Edsite, Runner up was Team Choukosh.

Champion from startup section was Team We Works, Runner Up was Team Probash Kotha.

Champions from each category had received 5000 US Dollars, and Runners up received 2500 US Dollars seeding money.

They also have the opportunity of getting free office space and mentoring opportunities from ICT division.

William A S Ouderland: The Australian freedom fighter of 1971

William first set foot in Dhaka, in 1970, as Production Manager for the Bata Shoe Company. He’d just been promoted to Executive Director for the company when our War for Liberation broke out. Any sensible man, if presented the opportunity, would have taken flight-back to the safety of his country.

But “Bir Protik” William A S Ouderland, the only foreigner to be honored as such for his role in the War for Liberation, chose instead to stay and fight with the people of this country at great risk to his own life. It may seem odd that he chose to fight for a people that he seemingly had no direct connection. However, a closer look at his life reveals a tapestry of personal tragedies that may have informed his decision to take up arms for Bangladesh.    

Life of a spy

Ouderland came from a poor working-class Dutch family of shoe-shiners. Born in Amsterdam during World War I, he was all too familiar with the horrors of war. Prior to Hitler’s invasion of the Netherlands, he had joined the Dutch National Service. Soon after, he become a sergeant in the Royal Signal Corps. He was captured by Nazis and interned in a POW camp. He managed to escape the camp, to become a spy for the Dutch Underground Resistance movement.

“As the events of March 1971 unfolded with the tanks and Pakistani forces rolling into Dhaka, I was re-living the experience of my younger days in Europe,”

He wrote to his friend Anwar Faridi about 2 decades after ‘71.

Role in the liberation war

Fast forward to March 25 1971. As the Pakistani army systematically butchered the sleeping residents of Dhaka in cold blood, in “Operation Searchlight”, Ouderland was in Dhaka as the Executive Director of Bata. He used his special privileges from his position to securely pass through the city during the curfew. He quietly photograph the trail of death and destruction the Pakistani army had left in their wake. Strongly reminded of the atrocities he had seen in his early years in Europe committed by the Nazis, he felt compelled to document the atrocities to the best of his abilities. He then sent the photographic evidence he had compiled to the international media.

At that time, he also had connections from his experience as a spy for Dutch Underground Resistance during World War II. Ouderland established relationships with many high ranking officers within the Pakistani Army including Tikka Khan, Rao Farman Ali. He even became a “distinguished friend” of AAK Niazi – people who were personally involved in orchestrating “Operation Searchlight”. Part of his strategy included tlattering the Pakistanis with high praise and improved his access to the high ranking officials. He then clandestinely forwarded key intelligence from these contacts to Col (retd) M. A. G. Osmani, Commander-in-Chief of the Mukti Bahini, through a den in Zinzira.

Drawing from his experience in World War II as a guerilla commando, he organized and trained members of the Mukti Bahini. He shared techinques in Sector 2 in secret locations in Tongi, including the premises of the Bata Shoe Factory. At one point, he put his own life at risk by becoming actively involved in the missions in Sector 2. He planned and coordinated various missions in and around Dhaka, most notably destroying the Bhairab-Tongi rail line bridge and culvert. According to a document in the possession of Major Haider, Ouderland would regularly supply provisions to Mukti Bahini fighters, hiding weapons in his rooftop water tank and regularly sending shoes, blankets and medicines to them.

He had fully adopted this country as his own, going so far as to fight for it in a war that wasn’t his.

For the safety of his staff and their families, he had many of them move to the Bata Shoe Factory compound. When the Pakistani Army took over the Telephone Industries Corporation adjacent to the factory, he recognized the looming danger from being precariously positioned right next to an army encampment and created two bunkers for his staff on the grounds of the factory.  The bunkers would save the lives of more than 50 people later in December when the Indian air force attacked the Pakistani camps next door. He even went as far as opening his doors to the Mukti Bahini after sending away his wife and their daughter to Australia.

Life after the war

However, his request for citizenship was denied and in 1978 he retired from his role as the Executive Director of the Bata Shoe Company and settled in Australia with his family. To honour his bravery in our Liberation War, he was twice invited to Bangladesh – once in 1992 and again in 1998- to officially accept his “Bir Protik” award. His health, however, prevented him from travelling to Bangladesh to accept the award in person. When the award eventually reached him, he donated the 10,000 BDT endowment to the Bangladesh Freedom Fighters Welfare Trust.

Ouderland passed away in Perth, Western Australia on May 18, 2001, at the age of 83. Many Bangladeshis attended his funeral and sang the national anthem as his coffin was draped with a flag in Bangladesh’s national colors. A library at the Bangladesh High Commission in Australia and a road in front of the Australian High Commission in Dhaka is named in his honour.

He may not have been a Bangladeshi on paper, but he was through and through a Bangladeshi to his very core. We owe you a great debt, sir.