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As infants, we look up from our cribs, not differentiating the rich from the poor or one religion from another—our gaze sees our universe with equality.
Innocence! Free from societal programming and prejudices that, sadly, many spend their whole lives reinforcing. Others realise as they grow older, that our differences are what make life interesting and unite us in curiosity and thirst for knowing more, and that everyone, regardless of their race, age, gender, religion, nationality or other so-called differences, is equal. Thus, when we extend our hand in friendship, it is because they are equally deserving of respect, dignity, opportunities and hope.
But as we become more aware of the world, we realise that vast populations remain denied their right to a dignified life. Growing up in Dhaka, you can’t help but encounter poverty and helplessness. Yet being ‘lucky’, I truly realised the extent of the disparity that existed in the world when I was travelling on the Brahmaputra River nearly three decades ago.
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On this moving landscape of river islands, constantly eroding and forming afresh, no permanent infrastructure was possible—no roads, bridges, schools, hospitals. The distance from the mainland and dearth of boats, made public service delivery entirely impossible—and out of reach. It was a community of perpetual climate migrants—displaced dozens of times in their lifetimes, each time left rebuilding from nothing.
There, I found people living in what I felt were unacceptable conditions. I met a woman who could only feed her child dry white rice twice a day—and she would feed him dinner when it was still light. “Spending 2 cents on fuel for a lamp just to be able to eat? What a luxury!” she told me.
There was nothing to ease his pain—no cool water nor an-over- the-counter balm or painkiller.
Nearby, a child had been burned three days earlier, I heard his nonstop crying stopping only when worn out with pain and suffering. There was nothing to ease his pain—no cool water nor an-over- the-counter balm or painkiller.
It was too much to bear. It left me in tears, sadness, then anger, then with a question of WHY?! Then the resolution that I had to do something about it!
Thus started Friendship! Working day and night, ignoring scepticism, chauvinism, and sniggers of many established development workers, Friendship opened the first hospital ship with free primary and secondary healthcare to serve the climate migrants on the riverine islands of the Brahmaputra.
Healthcare had never been brought to this landscape, let alone free healthcare on a ship! But this was the only way to bring dependable, quality service. There was no point if it was not free, for people scarcely had money to eat. If I wanted to ensure growth for these citizens, I needed to ensure that their health was good enough to become able citizens. This meant that I couldn’t settle for funds from partners who wanted to achieve “financial sustainability”, as that would not meet the goal of providing viable healthcare. I think one can understand the scepticism I received, but I stuck to my conviction.
The only way to create sustainable healthcare was to embed ourselves within the community, and to empower the people with the knowledge of how to access healthcare.
Yet, we realised quickly that bringing in a ship with doctors, operation theatres, path labs and all the best equipment, could not ensure good health and empowerment in the long term. Who would take responsibility for follow ups, how would we ensure access to the national healthcare system? The only way to create sustainable healthcare was to embed ourselves within the community, and to empower the people with the knowledge of how to access healthcare. And we couldn’t stop at healthcare, because health is inextricably linked to education, access to finance, human rights and economic progress. But we could not do this on our own. We needed to work with the communities, as one.
That is the difference between charity and friendship. In a friendship, the walls of segregation dissipate, leaving unity and mutual respect. What distinguishes Friendship, as a Social Purpose Organisation, is that values, sustainable friendship and respect are its driving force. We don’t parachute in and out. We do not make anyone do things, just because we feel it is right. We perceive their needs and then we work together to fulfil them, recognising that these solutions are the building blocks of our own future in a world where all of us have to stand together to face the impacts of the climate crisis.
There is no greater purpose for human existence, than to make our time here a pleasant one for everyone involved.
Friendship is a two-way street where you learn from each other to grow together. The work of our organisation relies heavily on medic-aides, paralegals, teachers, solar technicians, and flood volunteers selected from within the community and trained to the highest standards possible. Not only does this empower the community to take care of many of their own needs, it also helps us develop trust and deep understanding.
They inspire me! Their tenacity, resilience and unwavering optimism in the face of calamities and hopelessness daily. And if I am able to borrow an ounce of their strength of resilience I would be lucky. I am privileged and honoured and I thank God that I can serve them. Perhaps my greatest privilege in my life has been to befriend these heroes.
It is ironic, therefore, that I also wish that they very quickly no longer require us. There would be no greater attestation than for Friendship to work itself out of relevance, having given our friends the sustainability they deserve. If it were not obvious already, that is why we chose the name that we have—Friendship—because that is what we offer, as a philosophy. We do not wish to be a faceless entity, a mere logo on a relief bag, or an offhand name on a report.
And so it is with that, that I wish my readers a happy friendship day. Perhaps you and I can one day be friends too. Perhaps something about what we do will inspire you to—if not join us—then take it upon yourselves to help those in need. There is no greater purpose for human existence, than to make our time here a pleasant one for everyone involved. Society, conscience, humanity are all facets of the same fact—that we cannot exist without each other. So why can’t we be friends?
To learn more, read the Development Co-operation Report 2023
In the last three years, multiple global crises and the growing urgency of containing climate change have put current models of development co-operation to, perhaps, their most radical test in decades. The goal of a better world for all seems harder to reach, with new budgetary pressures, demands to provide regional and global public goods, elevated humanitarian needs, and increasingly complex political settings.