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Transgender volunteers winning hearts at DMCH

by Khan Helal

Holding a placard inscribed with “I am a volunteer. How can I help you?” Sagarika was waiting at the entrance of Dhaka Medical College Hospital’s Covid-19 unit. As soon as an ambulance arrived, she rushed towards it, helping the patient get off from the vehicle.

As the patient got down, she helped the wheelchair-bound patient get to the Covid-19 unit, while providing necessary instructions to family members.

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Sagarika is one of 15 members of a group of volunteers serving patients at DMCH, 10 of whom, including Sagarika, are from the transgender community.

Clad in orange jackets, the volunteers have been an ever-present sight at the hospital since April 14, the first day of the current phase of the lockdown.

The group has been working under the platform “Brihonnola”, a collective that works towards trans acceptance in Bangladesh.

“I feel very proud to be able to make such a contribution here. I’ll admit, it took some time for people to accept us, but gradually their attitude towards us changed,” Sagarika told The Daily Star.

Their work includes loading and unloading patients from ambulances, sanitising patients and their family members, disinfecting their belongings, providing instructions on navigating the hospital premise, administrative assistance, helping in buying medicines, and a host of other favours.

In addition, they have been transporting discharged patients — especially destitute pregnant women, children and elderly patients, and Covid survivors — around the city, with a battery-run auto-rickshaw.

The service is completely free.

Every day, they have been providing around 20 trips for the discharged patients, who often face difficulties in managing and affording transportation services to reach home.

Sagarika, who completed her Bachelor of Social Science from Government Rajendra College in Faridpur, joined Brihonnola in 2018, when the organisation started its journey. She said her life has changed after joining the organisation.

“People will often come to us and praise us for what we do,” she said. “It’s really inspiring!”

But this praise is only the result of the indebtedness the patients feel for them. Old Dhaka’s Monir Hossain contracted the virus along with her entire family. The private service holder told this newspaper that Brihonnola’s volunteers helped his family a lot during their seven-day stay at DMCH’s Covid unit.

“They helped us buy whatever we needed. They were there whenever we called. Sometimes, it was an urgent pill, other times it was a bottle of water or food,” he said.

“Since every one of my family was affected, we literally got no support from our relatives and close friends. But these volunteers were by our side for the whole week,” the gratitude could be heard from his tone.

Praise also flowed in from the hospital authority. DMCH Director Brig Gen Nazmul Haque said, “Brihonnola’s volunteers have become a great asset for us, especially since we have limitations regarding support staff.”

“Patients who come from outside Dhaka and are new to our hospital have greatly benefitted by them,” he added.

But all this work comes with a risk, and the volunteers try their best to offset it. Munmun, another transgender volunteer, said, “Since we work for Covid patients, we need to maintain maximum hygiene and social distancing.”

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