By Fr. Gian Paolo Gualzetti, PIME
What follows is the testimony of Fr. Gian Paolo Gualzetti, who stands beside the young workers in the industrial suburbs of Dhaka, Bangladesh. “The economic pressure and hunger here are stronger than any other country in lockdown. We try to help those facing the most difficulty. Medicine here? The best is still prayer with acetaminophen three times a day.”
South Asia is now one of the regions where the Coronavirus is spreading like wildfire. The latest data from Bangladesh speaks of about 170,000 cases and 2,151 victims, 46 of which passed in the last 24 hours alone. These are significant numbers in a country of 160 million inhabitants, with a health system in which the measures of prevention and control adopted in the West are merely unimaginable. Open or closed borders, the real question is, how are ordinary people living the Covid-19 emergency in Bangladesh. Fr. Gian Paolo Gualzetti, a PIME Missionary, lives his mission on the extreme outskirts of Dhaka in the industrial district of Zirani. Along with his community, he takes care of the young workers who have arrived from rural villages, and who are among the segments of the population most affected by the economic crisis created by the Coronavirus.
Here, things are still uncertain because the government has loosened the lockdown restrictions, resuming work, and travel. The economic pressures and widespread hunger still have their weight, though. Sometimes the government declares some red zones, especially in Dhaka, but the controls are Bengaliesque. Everyone hopes that the heat will play its part and that the young people of Bangladesh have immune systems that are stronger than those of their western counterparts. At least, so they say, and we hope that they are right, because the medical and health facilities in our country are insufficient in the face of this devastating pandemic.
I, too, live my quarantine with loose parameters, because I have resumed going to Dhaka and visiting the PIME house for proxy services, and a bit of fraternity with the other fathers.
At the center of Zirani, there are three PIME Sisters, a catechist, two cooks, a caretaker, and about 30 young workers. Though, the young ones are gradually decreasing, especially the boys, due to contagion fears.
We follow the basic rules, and we have not yet opened the doors for public Masses and visits to families, it is a nice penance. At our center in Zirani, we have put together a “summer camp” where we decide the daily programs together. It has been an excellent opportunity to get to know each other better than even that which took place from Holy Week to Pentecost.
Our young workers have started working again, and the challenges have increased. A brother of mine – a doctor – is a security that comforts us, even if now and then he confides in me that the best medicine in this pandemic is still prayer and acetaminophen.
We are facing the Coronavirus emergency together because there are many families and young people who have not received their full salary but still have to pay rent without discounts. So we are helping them with a small monthly contribution. Then there are the emergencies of those who have lost their jobs. So the help sometimes consists of paying the rent of the vehicle that brings them back to the village along with the few things that furnished their room. They are small but precious aids. We are not able to visit all the families scattered in this industrial area. So, our pastoral council members are collaborating in reporting the neediest families or young people in their field; it showcases a beautiful cross-section of a living Church.