Volunteers step up for vulnerable citizens during the pandemic
In Bangladesh, UNICEF volunteers are helping ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach as many people as possible.
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Sadman and Mukta come from very different places. Sadman, 22, grew up in a small village in Bangladesh, while Mukta, 24, has lived her whole life in Dhaka, the country’s bustling capital. But they also have plenty in common – they’re both students, for example, and studying nutrition and food. More importantly: They are both driven by a desire to help other people, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadman and Mukta are volunteers with UNICEF, first supporting the roll-out of child immunization campaigns, and more recently helping vulnerable people get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I wanted to help children and underprivileged people,” says Sadman, who has been working as a volunteer for about a year.
Both of these young volunteers have firsthand experience of the impact that COVID-19 can have on people’s lives. Sadman says he was sick with COVID-19 last year, and seems to shudder when he recalls how, for about a month, he felt feverish and short of breath.
Mukta, for her part, says the pandemic took a heavy toll on her family. “My family struggled, especially financially as my father’s income got cut by half,” she says.
Going door to door
The volunteers go door to door in vulnerable communities, talking to elderly people, families living in slums, and those without access to a mobile phone or internet – resources that are essential for people hoping to register with the online COVID-19 vaccination platform. Volunteers also share information with people afraid to get vaccinated, or those who simply don’t know much about COVID-19.
“Near my village, there is a river and some people live on the riverbanks,” Sadman says. “Some people didn’t even know about the coronavirus…So, I help them to register for the COVID-19 vaccination. It felt good to help them.”
As well as explaining the importance of getting vaccinated and helping people to register, volunteers accompany vulnerable – or even nervous – people to COVID-19 vaccination centres. Sadman and Mukta have registered about 80 people for vaccinations, and accompanied around a dozen to vaccination centres.
Nazma, 50, is one of the people Mukta helped register online.
“I didn’t have access to a smartphone. I didn’t know how to register for vaccination. I didn’t even know where to get help,” Nazma says. “I was afraid I might not get vaccinated.”
Jomir, 65, was in a similar situation until he received help from Sadman. “I always wanted to get vaccinated. But I didn’t know where and how to get it,” Jomir says. “Now, I’m feeling good after being vaccinated.”
With only 12 per cent of Bangladesh’s population fully vaccinated by the start of November 2021, the work of the around 3,200 UNICEF-supported volunteers like Mukta and Sadman is vital. Together, they have helped register over 88,000 people for the COVID-19 vaccination.
“I’ve seen so many vulnerable people,” Mukta says. “I enjoy going to people’s homes and raising awareness about vaccination. I love helping them.”