Two young women at the Chattogram Veterinary University lab
Two young women at the Chattogram Veterinary University labCollected

Jamila Begum is a volunteer at the laboratory in Chattogram Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. She had been at the Heidelberg University in Germany for 10 years and had returned to Bangladesh after completing her post-graduate and doctorate studies in biotechnology there. Then the lockdown was enforced due the coronavirus outbreak, but she was not one to stay at home.

“The whole world has come to a standstill due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Jamila said, “There is unrest all over. Patients are panicking. What is the point if I don’t do anything for the people? I didn’t give the matter a second thought. I have just committed myself to this work.”

She is working on testing samples for COVID-19 and carrying out research in the lab.

During the liberation war many freedom fighters left home and went to Agartala to train. That’s how I felt in the beginning. When I packed and left home for the lab, I felt like I was going to war for the country.
Afifa Halim, volunteer at the Chattogram Veterimary University lab

There are four other young women like her working at the lab – Afifa Halim, Syeda Shamim Nasrin, Jahan Ara and Sabiha Zerin. Shamima and Afifa also studied biotechnology abroad. Other than these five young women, veterinary university’s researcher Sirajul Islam and teacher Iftekhar Ahmed are also working in the lab.

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Vice chancellor of the university Gautam Buddha Das has given full support to these volunteers. He has arranged for them to stay at the university’s guest house and well as for their food and drinking water. The drinking water has been provided by Sunshine Charities. The NGO Drishti is providing them with protective face shields. And the Chittagong College 2001 batch is providing them with protective personal equipment (PPE).

These volunteers had come to know about the lab work through Facebook and some teachers. They then came forward to offer their services. Afifa Hamid graduated from Pune University in India and had come home to Chattogram on a visit. She is now testing samples with the others at the lab.

Two of the young women said that initially their families and neighbours disapproved. Then again, there were all sorts of risks at work. But they overcame all these obstacles and are working at the lab

Afifa said, “During the liberation war many freedom fighters left home and went to Agartala to train. That’s how I felt in the beginning. When I packed and left home for the lab, I felt like I was going to war for the country.”

Syeda Shamima Nasrin studied biotechnology at Gottingen University in Germany. She was interested to see the COVID-19 work being done in the lab and contacted the VC Gautam Buddha Das by email. She then joined up.

Nasrin said that she couldn’t be happier to be able to apply the skills she earned while studying abroad, for the welfare of the country. She wanted to do everything in her ability to work for the people.

These volunteers said that it is always a risk working with any virus. COVID-19 has a higher risk because of its fast rate of transmission. Every day in the lab they have to process the samples, separate the RNA and carry out many other procedures. There is always the risk of contracting the virus. They have to be extremely cautious.

Two of the young women said that initially their families and neighbours disapproved. Then again, there were all sorts of risks at work. But they overcame all these obstacles and are working at the lab.

Professor and chief director of the veterinary university’s lab, Junaid Siddiqui, said, “It took a lot of will power for these girls to convince their families that this work was for the country, to save people’s lives. I laud their work.”

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