Oral Histories of Bangladeshi-American led Mutual Aid
Interviews: Joymala Hajra | Artwork: Jabin Ahmed

Bangladeshi-Americans led mutual aid efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn. They organized donations and volunteers, pooled resources, and offered direct aid to marginalized communities in NYC. This project also documents activists serving street children and survivors of gender based violence, who pivoted their services during the pandemic. Their stories reveal creative solutions to universal problems that have been born out of Bangladeshi-American organizing in New York.

Kazi Fouzia

Kazi facilitated a complex city-wide mutual aid effort focused on the most vulnerable populations. She has dedicated her life to working for the rights of workers, women, and immigrants both in Bangladesh and NYC. She is the Director of Community Organizing at Desis Rising up and Moving (DRUM), an organization serving low income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers.

In this clip, Kazi reveals the big lesson she learned about community in New York City- we have each other’s back. She was especially touched by young people who stepped up to serve and protect all who needed help.

Moumita Ahmed

Moumita is a movement organizer, community activist, and civic leader fighting for the working class; particularly immigrant working families who are underrepresented in our city government. She is the founder of Queens Mutual Aid and a founding member of Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress.

Moumita and her comrades not only provided direct aid, but also helped people access public aid as their capacity with Queens Mutual Aid was limited. In this clip, she describes the importance of treating people with dignity in times of crisis through culturally specific care.

Shahana Masum

Shahana brought decades of community organizing, interfaith, and political experience to serve Staten Islanders affected by the pandemic. She has fought to protect New Yorkers who are low income and religious minorities through her work with the Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group and the Muslim Ummah of North America.

In this clip, Shahana recounts a heartbreaking moment she shared with a young immigrant mother whose husband was hospitalized due to COVID. The informal mutual aid group Amra Staten Islanders banded together to provide not only essentials like food and medicine, but much needed mental health support.

Jahin Rahman

Jahin is the founder of Efforts in Youth Development of Bangladesh, a youth-led organization working to support street children in Bangladesh so they can become the social justice change makers of the future. Jahin mobilized hundreds of volunteers around the world to provide relief during the pandemic.

I asked Jahin how he copes with bearing witness to the injustice and suffering of the children he serves. In this clip, he talks about how he stays centered using journaling, keen logic, and a refusal to normalize injustice- even when it is widespread.

Shahana Hanif

Shahana is Council member elect for Brooklyn’s District 39, where she was born and raised. She is devoted to working class families through public service rooted in feminist, anti-racist care. Shahana and her sister Sabia created the COVID-19 survival fund to support undocumented Bangladeshis in Brooklyn.

In this clip, Shahana discusses how key members of Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress (BAPP) pivoted from electoral work to form mutual aid groups that served people across the city. Bangladeshi Americans continue to do vital work in the city, including highlighting areas that need more attention from city officials in order to best serve the community.


Aasha brings their experiences as a non-binary survivor with auto-immune disease to support Queer youth and survivors of gender violence. They are developing community-specific healing practices rooted in pleasure activism. During the pandemic, they supported queer youth navigating various challenges exacerbated by quarantine and limited social services.

In this clip, Aasha discusses how pleasure activism can prevent sexual abuse. By teaching people to respect and connect with their own bodies, they can respect themselves and others and have awareness and empathy around issues of abuse.

Thahitun Mariam

Thahitun is a Bronx-bred poet, writer, community organizer, and activist working to uplift working-class and immigrant families in NYC. She founded Bronx mutual aid and is a founding member of Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress.

Women played an important role in the Liberation of Bangladesh. In this clip, Thahitun discusses who is connected to the struggles of community and how this connection influences their leadership.

Jabin Ahmed

Jabin is an artist, organizer, and public health expert. She co-founded Jaago Hudson, a survivor-led movement to raise awareness and remove stigma surrounding sexual abuse and violence in the South Asian diaspora. Jabin led protests during the pandemic to support survivors of abuse in the Bangladeshi community of Hudson NY.

In this clip, Jabin talks about the increase in gender violence during the pandemic. Jaago Hudson works with organizations in Bangladesh and connects the endemic gender violence transnationally while offering culturally specific care to Bangladeshi American survivors.

Joymala Hajra (she/her) was born in NYC to parents who emigrated from Bangladesh in the 1970’s. She trained in Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and has worked as an artist and designer in the mass fashion industry for over two decades. She has been working at the intersections of gender, labor, culture, and memory through her creative practices which include: zero-waste, upcycled fashion, oral history, and social entrepreneurship. A graduate of Columbia University’s MA in South Asian Studies, Joymala enjoys learning about and amplifying the creativity and power of groups left out of mainstream narratives.

The Archival Creators Fellowship Program is made possible with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read Joymala's writings about his fellowship project in TIDES:
• Leading Communities of Care