Arifur was 12 to 13 when the idea first came to him. He had been watching a TV drama ‘Sabuj Chhaya’ by Humayun Ahmed where one of the protagonists, played by actor Zahid Hassan, promised to do one good deed a day. Arifur fostered the idea from that early age.
He started social work during his university days in 2009. He along with his friends used to collect money through crowd funding and pay for medical treatment of underprivileged children.
“We used to arrange meals for the low-income people at the time occasionally, once or twice in a month. We had other programmes such as education for street children. We mainly focused on medical treatment at the time. Our work for the underprivileged children’s treatment was recognised by popular TV show Ityadi in 2010” he said. Other media outlets have covered Arifur’s work and Bhalo Kajer Hotel too.
He showed his meeting room, where the members of the organisation make their work plans. Numerous photographs of happy faces of children were hanging from the wall. The smiles of the children in the photographs were exuding happiness.
Bhalo Kajer Hotel
The organisation started regular operations in 2019 twice or thrice a week. Each of the members of the organisation has a piggy bank and they deposit Tk 10 every day in that bank. This contribution of the members is the main source of funding. The food distribution programme is mainly based in Kamalapur railway station. They also distribute food among people in other parts of the city like Hatirjheel, Banani and so on. The organisation distributes food among around 400 low-income people daily. It also operates a school in the capital’s Basabo area, called “Daily Ten School’.
“After the Covid spread in March 2020 in the country we started a daily food programme as part of Covid response.”
The expenses must have doubled then, I commented. He said, the school was closed at the time due to lockdown. So they could spend all the money on the food programme.
During Covid, around 35 members of the organisation conducted social work like food distribution, distributing kitchen essentials and providing ambulance services.
“We would not go home as there was risk of spreading the virus to our family members. We used to spend the night in a room of our school, sleeping on the floor,” Arifur said.
What keeps you going?
Arifur Rahman smiled. “Let me tell you a story”. He said several sex workers used to eat dinner from the Bhalo Kajer Hotel initially. One day Arifur asked one of them what good deed she did that day. The girl said, she helped an elderly man by carrying his bag to the train. The man gave her Tk 100 and asked her to have lunch with it.
“I had lunch with the money and that’s the first time I earned something in a respectable way,” she told Arifur Rahman.
“After a few days I noticed few girls were missing at the dinner. I came to know a few of them had started working in garments factories,” he said.
Arifur believes hatred or social exclusion only shoves those girls into more misery whereas showing them a path and sparking hope in them may change their lives.
Mistrust and doubts
In this era of social media and technology, trust has become a rarity. People easily doubt other’s motive even if someone is really doing an act of kindness.
I asked, did anyone ever call you a fraud or accused you of embezzling the funds? How do you cope with this? Arifur smiled again and said, it happens every now and then, but that’s how the world is, not a bed of roses.
He recalled, “Probably in 2012, few members and I went to a vocational institution to seek members and volunteers. We talked to the head of the institution. He made so many negative comments at us that we broke into tears.”
“What did he say?”
“He said this has become our profession. We embezzle the money. The daily contribution we take from the active members is actually alms. We live on this ‘profession’ and so many things.”
Arifur was hurt. He stopped inviting and recruiting new members for some time after that. But eventually he forgot the bitter experience and moved on.
What makes ‘Bhalo Kajer Hotel’ a transparent one, I asked.
Arifur said, the organisation operates very transparently as more than 600 active members present an account of income and expenditure every month.
Arifur said they always collect money in a transparent glass box and keep an account of the total collection. “We always update the people through our social media platform about the children undergoing treatment and money spent on the purpose.”
The founder of ‘Bhalo Kajer Hotel’ said, there have been more positive incidents than the bitter ones. A year ago, a man contacted him, wanting to become a member of the voluntary organisation. When Arifur asked why he wanted to become a member, the man said, he ate with the ‘Bhalo Kajer Hotel’ for three days once. He did not have work at the time and had been going through a bad phase.
“Every day the volunteers asked me what good deed I did that day. I had nothing. Then I started to help the volunteers in distributing the food, fetching water and so on. That gave me a purpose in life and restored faith in myself. I immediately managed a job in a shop. Now I have money and I want to become a member,” the man told Arifur.
Arifur said, there are so many events and moments that make him pursue this work.
“If you ask me if I have any addiction, I would say, this act of helping others is my addiction,” said Arifur.
Family support and struggle
Arifur is an entrepreneur by profession. Beside his work, he spent a significant amount of time in the social work. He has been spending every Eid since 2012 with underprivileged people and street children.
Bhalo Kajer Hotel also distributes food among orphans in different areas every Friday. While spending too much time outside, he often misses family events and gatherings.
He said, although his wife and parents get upset sometimes, they support him in most cases.
“What about others in the organisation?”
“During Covid-19 lockdown when we were staying at the school, our parents were very worried. One of the members was only a Class X student and his parents were very upset. They cried and told me to send their son back home,” Arifur said.
According to Arifur, families get upset as they are concerned about their children. They are not to be blamed. But the views have been changing gradually. Youth are now participating in such social works a lot.
“There might be a lot of highs and lows throughout our journey. But when an eight-year-old boy comes to us and says, ‘Mama (uncle), I guarded the footpath with a stick in hand and barred people from urinating there the whole day,’ we feel recharged. When a homeless man says he swept the street as his good deed of the day, we see hope.”
Arifur Rahman and his colleagues, unlike many youth, have the knack to help others in order to bring change. It might be a small initiative, but kindness is like a fire, it spreads.
*Farjana Liakat works for Prothom Alo. She can be reached at [email protected]