“My mother passed away due to diarrhoea in 2014. She probably ate unhygienic food and we didn’t suspect anything. I mean, who dies from food poisoning in the 21st century? She was sick for just 1 day. And it shocked me, that she passed away after just 1 day.
My last words with her were when I took her to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), when the nurse didn’t let me go with her when they were pushing her to the ICU lift.
She looked at me …. In a certain way, and stared – and I felt like she knew this was going to be our last moment together. And true enough, she didn’t make it out alive from the surgery.
She had severe diarrhoea and from there she had septic shock, and all her internal organs shut down and had a heart attack.
She passed away on April 14 – which is the Bengali New Years Day. It is always the biggest day for us as a family and for Bangladesh, where I am from.
She had told us for tomorrow morning, if you don’t wake up early for the day’s activities, she would have just left on her own. And she did.
Now on this day, we all feel only sadness. Even my dad met and fell in love with her on the same day, and this day really bothers us.
She had gotten New Year’s clothes, and bought nothing for herself. We just felt like, maybe she just knew.
And now I live with lots of regrets that will be with me all my life. If I had known more about the diarrhoea or sent her to the hospital much earlier…
I regret not spending more time with her, like when she’s cooking, she would expect me to stand and talk to her and wants to talk to me a lot, and I would sometimes feel annoyed – now I wish I had spent time with her.
There was this one time I got accepted into a university in the States, but she told me she wanted me to study in Bangladesh instead, and I did not like her decision. But looking back, it was a chance for me to spend more time with her before she passed away.
And if I was given 30 seconds to make a phone call to her, I would tell her, that I love her and miss her. And I hope that she is well up there, and that I will keep doing good things to make her proud, that I am taking care of myself and my sister, and that she doesn’t have to worry about us.
I just want to listen to her voice, her complaints, her nagging – it’s not easy for me to say I love you and I did not say it enough.
When the nurse invited us to go to the ICU room to see her one last time, we saw her body.
In Islam, there’s probably a saying that you shouldn’t cry when someone has died, that we shouldn’t cry in front of her dead body. So we did not shed a single tear until we got home. Once we reached home, we both started crying uncontrollably.
I could not expect that someone could die from diarrhoea; It wasn’t even a big disease, and she was just fine the day before.
I could not forgive myself. I did research and found out that 45,000 people in Bangladesh, where I am from, die from diarrhoea every year.
And diarrhoea is the leading cause of death for children under 5 years of age – and 2.5 billion people don’t have access to proper sanitation.
I realized it’s not just us who are facing this – it is a global problem.
Then I thought I needed to do something about this – my family told me to stay and just grieve for my feelings, but I wanted to take action and help others, in case other people might lose their own moms, too.
And that’s where four days after her death, I conducted a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Campaign at an excluded community (the untouchables) of 3000 sewerage workers. I felt that I need to reach out to them and that society doesn’t value and appreciate them.
I became a WASH activist, where I teach people the importance of drinking clean water, maintaining basic hygiene, showering, keeping your nails short, menstrual hygiene, how to properly filter water at home, how to wash your hands properly (using the 7-steps technique) – things which many people didn’t know.
And in the past 7 years, I have reached out to 70,000 people, and now run my own organization called Awareness 360 in 23 countries, where I work with school children, slum dwellers, and sex workers – marginalized communities who do not know of this issue.
Right now in Malaysia, I notice that the Orang Asli community could use some help with the WASH education, which is why I will be going to Sabah and Sarawak to give a WASH talk.
To all Malaysians, do join our initiatives.
And most of all, value your parents when they are still alive, and for the youth, give back to the community now, not only when something tragic happened to you.
Find your passion in something that bothers you. We connect passion with a positive feeling – like music. But you can also find passion in something negative, and something you wish did not happen, and which bothers you. Each young person has all the potential to change the world for the better, only if they start bit by bit”.
– Humans of Kuala Lumpur
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Photostory by Mushamir Mustafa