COVID-19 has placed much of the world in economic and social disarray.

The impacts of the virus, which has killed more than 500,000 people around the world, have reportedly been compounded in Bangladesh by the country's high dependence on international trade for food and economic development and the landfall of one of the strongest cyclones in decades in May.

Nourish Bangladesh is a fundraising volunteer group started by Carleton professor Faress Bhuiyan, that includes Carleton students Rebecca Chen, Leah Johnson, Kristin Miyagi and Jack Brown; Carleton alumni Laura Kiernan and Ethan Ellis; and Northfield resident Jesse Steed; in addition to other volunteers in the U.S., U.K., and Bangladesh.

Organizers had raised more than $20,000 from over 130 donors as of July 1. Nourish Bangladesh vets non-government organizations and volunteer groups within the country, and directs funds towards them. They have two tracks for people to use to donate: Directly through non-governmental organizations registered in the U.S., or to Nourish Bangladesh’s portfolio, which is then distributed to NGOs and volunteer groups on the ground in Bangladesh.

"It seemed like the perfect opportunity" 

Bangladesh is geographically the size of Iowa but has more than 160 million people ⁠— approximately half of the U.S. population. As a result, the country is considered dependent on international trade for food and economic development. COVID-19 has hampered global supply chains, devastating Bangladesh’s developing economy and limiting the country’s ability to import food. The country has also had 166,000 confirmed coronavirus cases as of early this week. Cyclone Amphan, the costliest cyclone to hit the North Indian Ocean ever, struck in May, reaching wind speeds of 162 mph and killing 118.

Bhuiyan came to the U.S. to study economics at Northwestern University before becoming a professor at Carleton. Since 2015, he has led trips to Bangladesh every other year where Carleton students study economic development efforts in the country.

In the past, returning students have consistently expressed interest in advocating a reduction the poverty and suffering that is an all too often reality in Bangladesh, a country where yearly salaries typically range from $3,000 to $4,000. Recent events have allowed Bhuiyan to help students satisfy that interest, and Nourish Bangladesh has the capability to ensure the donations are sent to the proper place.

“It seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something about it,” he said.

Bhuiyan is aware of the propensity for Northfielders to think on a global scale and be conscious of world events. Although volunteering and empathizing with the plight of others is seen more on a local level, Bhuiyan believes the global economy makes it easier to understand the plight of the Bangladeshi people.

There are short- and long-term fundraising goals. Immediately, organizers want to ease the humanitarian crisis by lessening the hunger the people of Bangladesh face from a food shortage. Once the pandemic ends, the fundraising drive will halt, but the goal is to use the current effort as a springboard for future international fundraising work for students from other countries as well as immigrants.

“That’s the bigger picture,” Bhuiyan said.

Ellis, a Carleton alumnus, said Nourish Bangladesh sent the first round of aid funds to partner organizations July 1 and 2, and is in the process of beginning Canadian and Australian chapters.

Steed is a friend of Bhuiyan and has been helping with the fundraiser, mainly through website setup and maintenance work. He sees helping the stricken country as a way to help a world in need.

Steed is a youth exchange officer for the Rotary Club of Northfield, an organization with one of the premier student exchange programs in the world. One of Steed’s top goals through his work involves seeing the impact the dollars can have for those in need.

“The cause is obviously really poignant right now,” he said.

To Steed, although Bangladesh is thousands of miles away, places on the other side of the world can have a big impact on the U.S.

“I’ve seen firsthand the effects a student from Germany can have on Northfield families,” he said. “I definitely see a global relationship, and it’s important to be a part of the good things going on.”

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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