Walking the Cancer Tunnel with a Beacon of Hope

অতিথি লেখক's picture
Submitted by guest_writer on Sun, 03/02/2013 - 5:22pm

“We are wishful kites wandering the open skies
Eagerly anticipating our dreams to realize
We are a multitude of beacons clad as fireflies
Illuminating hope, yearning despairs demise…” by Sohel Ahmed

Our dream is the establishment of a specialized cancer hospital in Bangladesh. Our wish is for hope to prevail over despair. Our desire is to ignite the flickers of charity, community, and patriotism within the Bangladeshi community in Ottawa. Heeding the words of William Butler Yeats, “In dreams begins responsibility”, we marched forward.

And so our story began. Twenty-two individuals from twenty-two background with twenty-two perspectives on life, united for a common cause. All were conscious that we may not achieve great things but whatever we do, we can do it with great love. Amongst us were cancer survivors, close relatives of cancer victims and, in a tragic twist of irony, someone who discovered his mother’s cancer diagnosis while working tirelessly for the cause. Cancer is now our battle too.

It is a seemingly insurmountable disease that kills our dreams. It takes away a father’s dream to live through his child who had fallen victim to the disease or it obliterates a child’s right to the love of her mother who had been snatched away from her! It is a disease that can strike anyone, anytime. And when it does, it not only robs the patient of her hopes, it makes the entire family, her friends and everyone around her vulnerable, helpless!

Cancer is also an expensive disease. Irrespective of it though, for anyone to have a chance to fight the disease depends not only on the ability to detect it at an early stage, but also on one’s access to a well-developed healthcare facility that is capable of dealing with cancer. According to the Bangladesh Cancer Society the number of cancer sufferers in Bangladesh is currently 1.2 million and increasing by 200,000 every year. Environmental degradation, food adulteration and lack of health consciousness due to socio-economic reasons are all contributing to the increase. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these victims do not have access to proper medical facilities that can provide early detection and diagnosis. Existing specialized cancer-related healthcare infrastructure can only help 20% of all cancer patients.

Quite often, expatriates like us who live far away from our close families – have to receive the dreadful news of a dear one falling prey to cancer. The news hurts and it leaves an indelible blot on our conscience. It creates a kind of guilt in us that we have not been able to do anything for those unfortunate countrymen of ours who, one way or another, are a close family to each one of us living far away from home. So, when we heard about the appeal of Dhaka Ahsania Mission to help build a specialized cancer hospital (the Ahsania Mission Cancer and General Hospital (AMCGH), in, Dhaka, we decided to respond to the call. On May 13, 2012 we began our journey as the “Ahsania Mission Cancer and General Hospital (AMCGH) Awareness and Fund-Raising Campign, Ottawa”. Our objective was modest – to make other Bangladeshis living in Ottawa area aware of this initiative and to raise funds for the hospital. Our hope was to send the collected funds as a gift of collective love to the cancer patients in Bangladesh.

With this dream in our hearts, together we made an eventful journey from May to October 2012, when we participated in numerous community events (e.g. picnics, iftar mehfils, Eid reunions etc.) At these events, while we tried to disseminate information on the hospital project, we also sold goodies (e.g. jhalmuri, samucha, ice-creams) to collect donations for the project. A majestic flicker of emotions, an enduring longing to do something positive for our fellow citizens kept us going through these five months even without labelling ourselves with any formal organizational identity. Finally, October 13, the day of the fund-raising gala arrived. We aptly named the program “ক্যানসার জয়ের সপ্নসন্ধা” (A Cancer Benefit Evening). The event, held at the auditorium of Ron Kolbas Community Centre in Ottawa, received a huge support from the expatriate Bangladeshi community.

In the two-part event, the first half consisted of a cultural show. At one stage amidst the cultural show, the air in the community hall was engulfed with the tune of a flute – a tune that seemed to have come from a distant, far away land; a tune that unmistakeably reminded us of the magical melancholy crafted by an unmindful cowboy who had been playing that tune engrossed in himself while following his herd back to the barn! The tune touched the hearts of the audience, helped them reminisce the alleys of their favourite memories. The cultural show winded up with the songs of hope and aspirations; it ended with the children of expatriate Bangladeshis entering the dark auditorium stage with flickering lights in their palms symbolizing the beacons of hope, while their parents took the rear-end of the stage. The tunes and the lyrics of the songs ushered an ambiance to forge ahead and defeat any impediments to mark a new era of hope for the cancer patients in Bangladesh.

The second half of the event consisted of a series of mesmerizing presentations. It started of with Dr. Shahidul Islam (a renowned Cancer Specialist at the Ottawa General Hospital and the Director of the Anatomical Pathology program at the University of Ottawa) giving an account of the disease – cancer – from a physician’s perspective. Mr. John Swettenham (General Manager, Marketing at the Canada Post Corporation) then followed and shared his views of being an avid volunteer with the Terry Fox Foundation for 15 years. Through their messages both speakers highlighted the real impact that charitable donations can create in the lives of those who need it the most.

The stage was then taken by two remarkable cancer survivor stories that were the cornerstone of the entire program. The speakers – Subrata Sarker and Zohra Ferdousy – shared their very personal tale of battling with cancer and the emotional rollercoaster ride their families had to endure. They shared their unwavering belief and hope in defeating the disease that kept them going forward even when the battle seemed insuperable at times. These first-hand accounts not only touched the hearts of the audience, but also radiated inspirational energy into the auditorium.

The program ended with a video presentation on AMCGH followed by the collection of donations for the hospital project. The presentation informed the audience about the inception and progress of the project. The project commenced in 2005 in Uttara, Dhaka with financial assistance from the Government of Bangladesh. However, to respond to the overwhelming needs of cancer patients, the hospital administration has been running an ad-hoc small-scale facility in Mirpur (Section-13), where more than 1,200 patients receive cancer treatments annually. Through donations from the Government of Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi business community at large and from people from all walks of life, so far 70% of the hospital construction has been completed. It is due to the mass support received from all Bangladeshis that the hospital authority dubbed the project as the “People’s Hospital Being Built by the People”. The video presentation also highlighted the hospital administration’s commitment to provide treatment to at least 30% of the needy patients free of cost. The video presentation ended with the AMCGH administration appealing for donations for the project to accomplish the remaining bit of construction work and to make the hospital fully operational for the cancer patients in Bangladesh,

So, beyond the presentation when Mr. David Smith – a celebrated Canadian philanthropist – took the stage and requested the expatriate Bangladeshis for donations, a long line followed him instantly. It was that long line, which bore the testament of how close to our hearts we hold the delta that we so proudly call our motherland!

Over the course of the five-month long campaign, the expatriate Bangladeshis of Ottawa contributed CAD$ 22,252.80 to the AMCGH project. A Canadian registered charity, the Human Concern International, partnered with the campaign team and took the responsibility of channelling these funds to the AMCGH project administration. Additionally, the campaign also received a commitment of BDT৳ 91,000, which the donors will provide directly to the hospital administration.

Canada is the country which Terry Fox, the greatest of all cancer heroes, called his home! It is from this land that he ushered in hope for millions of cancer patients around the globe that we send a gift of love to the cancer patients in Bangladesh. The pecuniary value of the total sum of money may not be significant, but it bears the distinct sincere love and affection that come out of the hearts of expatriate Bangladeshis who long to make the lives of their beloved countrymen a little better for those who perhaps need it the most. You are and will stay in our minds and hearts for aeons to come!

Our story is far from over. We must continue to fight cancer. Every new cancer survivor in Bangladesh is a verse in our never-ending story. It is their indomitable will and unconquerable spirit that fuels our zeal to help, in whatever way possible. Let us continue to give cancer victims the courage to face the perils and the support to scale this seemingly insurmountable menace.

Please donate to the Ahsania Mission Cancer and General Hospital Fund. Expatriates living in North America can donate to the hospital through Human Concern International (HCI) or by contacting them at 1-800-587-6424. HCI will issue tax deduction receipts for all North American donors. For further details on the hospital click here: Ahsania Mission Cancer & General Hospital.

It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

- Invictus by William Ernest Henley


In 2012, a volunteer team of Bangladeshi expatriates living in Ottawa-Gatineau (Canada) ran a campaign for a cancer hospital in Bangladesh. The goal was to raise awareness and funds for the Ahsania Mission Cancer and General Hospital in Dhaka. The hospital project started in 2005, which is primarily funded by the Government and the citizens of Bangladesh (living in and outside the country). The Ottawa campaign was a response to the hospital’s appeal towards the Bangladeshi expatriates to support this noble cause.

The Campaign team was:

- Afrina Momen & Rupam Faruquee
- Farhana Islam & Sadaquat Junayed
- Happy Rahman & Mizan Rahman
- Humaira Armin & Mamun Mahmud
- Humayra Kabir-Faisal & Aad-Yean Faisal
- Marufa Rahman & Mazib Rahman
- Radha Dey & Subrata Sarker
- Rebecca Khan (Dipa)
- Rizwana Alamgir-Arif & Faisal Arif
- Sanjeda Ahmed & Sohel Ahmed
- Yasmin Akter & Lokman Hossain
- Zohra Ferdousy

The campaign team participated in various community events (e.g., picnics, festivals, Terry Fox Run, etc.) throughout the summer 2012. The five-month long campaign was culminated into a Charity Event (Cancer Benefit Evening / ক্যান্সার জয়ের স্বপ্নসন্ধ্যা) at the Ron-Kolbus Community Centre (Ottawa) held on October 13, 2012. With remarkable support from the Bangladeshi community, the Campaign raised CAD $22,252.80 and BDT 91,000.00. The Human Concern International, a federally registered charity organization in Canada, helped to transfer the amounts to the hospital administration. The total contribution went as a combined gift of love and care from the Bangladeshi Expatriates in Ottawa-Gatineau to the cancer patients in Bangladesh.

The original Bangla version of this campaign story was authored by Zohra Ferdousy. This English version was developed by তাপস (Faisal Arif) and Sohel Ahmed.


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