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Giving Voice to the Unheard, Visibility to the Unseen

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By Shomy Chowdhury (YES 2011-2012, Bangladesh, hosted by PAX in Cheboygan, MI)

During this pandemic, we are encouraging everyone to stay at home, but this can actually seem like a luxury to many. Daily wage earners are out of a job and more worried about dying of hunger than from COVID-19. This is the sad reality. Thankfully, in my home country Bangladesh, there are quite a lot of initiatives being taken where daily wage earners such as rickshaw pullers, slum dwellers, and other underprivileged people are given food.

But one community is hardly given the attention that they merit. One of the most vulnerable, stigmatized, unnoticed, and isolated communities in Bangladesh is sex workers. Prostitution is legal in Bangladesh, but due to corruption, 90% of sex workers were trafficked to brothels and did not willingly sign up for this profession. During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, they are severely affected. This is why my organization, Awareness 360, launched a Relief Fund to provide them with food and hygiene supplies. Just $6.48 can provide enough food supplies for almost 2 weeks, per woman.

Due to the social stigma around them, sex workers do not get the attention they deserve. Hence, we are relying on everyone's generous networks to help us reach our target goals. Our first target is to reach 500 sex workers in Mymensingh, Bangladesh. We have already managed all logistics and safety precautions for our volunteers. Once the fund is collected, we will commence distribution, hopefully in the next 2 weeks.

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The items to be distributed, for a total cost per package of Tk 550 (USD 6.48) are: 

1. Rice (5 kg) – Tk 250
2. Lentils (1 kg) – T 80
3. Oil (1/2 L) – Tk 55
4. Potatoes (1 kg) – Tk 25
5. Salt (1/2 kg) – Tk 18
6. Onions (1 kg) - Tk 45
7. Hand-washing Soap - Tk 25
8. Antiseptic disinfectant (100 ml) - Tk 52

You can read more about the situation of sex workers in Bangladesh here. Please find my organization's facebook page by clicking here. Besides this fundraiser, we are also regularly posting awareness posts on our social media channels and organizing live sessions on Mental Health, Business Tips, Model UN Tips, and Online Resources in the context of the pandemic in order to help our members get through this quarantine.

Identifying an issue in the community and taking action is something I learned from my YES exchange year in the U.S., and I am still practicing it back in my homeland. YES has taught me to be open-minded and empathetic. YES unites us all beyond borders. Hence I remain hopeful that my YES family will come forward to support this initiative.


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