Catholic students help survivors of cyclone in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh – After a day of trudging through the debris of wrecked homes handing out relief coupons to survivors of the recent cyclone, the president of the Bangladesh Catholic Students’ Movement was tired.

Anthony Prince Costa told the Asian church news agency UCA News that he had spent the day visiting families in the southern village of Ryanda.

“People of the area are not getting enough relief supplies,” he said Dec. 2.

Costa, 24, is a volunteer for Caritas Bangladesh’s relief program to victims of Cyclone Sidr, which struck the southern coastal regions of Bangladesh Nov. 15. Caritas Bangladesh is the local affiliate of the international Catholic umbrella group of charities called Caritas Internationalis.

As of Dec. 2, the government was reporting nearly 3,300 people dead and nearly 53,000 injured in the disaster. More than 8 million people were affected severely, the government said.

Benedict D’Rozario, executive director of Caritas Bangladesh, said university student volunteers like Costa have joined 122 Caritas staff and more than 100 village leaders to take relief to the Barisal and Khulna areas, where Ryanda is located. Both areas are south of Dhaka.

About 30,000 families have received aid so far, D’Rozario said.

Costa, a mathematics honor student studying in Dhaka, has been helping to assess the victims’ needs. He and 15 others from the student movement also have been helping Caritas collect donations and pack relief supplies.

“Twice I almost fell while scrambling over fallen trees,” he recalled, adding that “it will take six months for the locals to clean up” the mess.

Costa said it is not possible to escape the responsibility of helping the people.

“If you do not come and see, you will never understand the suffering of the victims,” he said, noting that they had no food or shelter. “One woman asked me to give her a plastic sheet so that she could protect her children from the night dew.”

Costa said they collected $310 in donations from two parishes in Dhaka and the student movement unit in Khulna.

“The money is so little,” he said, adding that baby food is an urgent need. “We are thinking of doing something with the Khulna diocesan youth commission for the victims soon.”

The National Council of YMCAs of Bangladesh also is distributing relief to 200 Christian families in the southern districts of Mongla and Gopalganj, southwest of Dhaka.

Marcel A. Gomes, president of the council, told UCA News in early December that people “are jobless, homeless and without food.”

“Their situation is not like ours, the people who live in cities and towns,” he said, noting the people’s dependence on the sea for their livelihood, even at the risk of deadly storms and floods.

“If they don’t go out to sea to fish, they starve,” he said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.