Working with refugees in Bangladesh: One day at a time

Fatema Bibi (age 27) and her daughter at the CARE-managed Potibonia Camp 16: just two of the 150,000 people who CARE is helping in the refugee camps in Bangladesh

With nearly a million Rohingya people living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, every day is a challenge for CARE staff like Ananya, Falguni and Samapti.

But every day is rewarding and worthwhile too…

Portrait of Ananya Nandy
Ananya Nandy is reporting, documentation and monitoring officer for CARE Bangladesh

Ananya Nandy: “The best part of my job is helping refugees”

I wake up at 6am in the morning and finish my morning prayers. I take a bath, read the newspaper and prepare breakfast for the family.

The best part of my job is helping refugees. Rohingya refugees have experienced many human rights violations in Myanmar. As a law graduate, this is an opportunity for me to work to protect them from harm, and make sure they have a dignified standard of living. I am also an advocate at Chittagong Judge’s Court. At court, I witnessed that women and adolescent girls do not have adequate privacy to express the violence committed against them before the court. I learnt the importance of maintaining the principle of confidentiality even in court.

My most memorable day at work was when I referred a pregnant refugee widow woman to the Community Health Centre for delivery. I accompanied the woman to the health centre as she was afraid to go alone. The woman gave birth to a baby girl that day. That moment was very memorable for me and made me more determined to work for these vulnerable refugee women in the future.

My work can be difficult – in the very beginning working with refugees was very hard for me. I was working with them from the early days of the influx and it was overwhelming as I had to visit almost 50 households in a day to identify their needs at that time. Women and girls were in very a vulnerable position. Most did not have clean clothes or hygiene items, such as soap and sanitary towels. They were traumatised from everything they had faced. Such issues made me very emotional and I became fully dedicated to the wellbeing of the refugees.

After work I return home and relax by watching television, talking on the phone with my family and friends and I’m usually asleep by 11:30pm.

Portrait of Falguni Das
Falguni Das leads on gender-based violence and protection for CARE Bangladesh’s humanitarian response

Falguni Das: “I learnt about the systemic rape, torture and brutality these women had faced”

I usually get up at 6am in the morning and cook breakfast for my family. Then I check my emails and prepare my daily work schedule. After that I get ready to go to the office and start my busy day.

My job involves designing and budgeting of programmes to support survivors/victims of gender-based violence (GBV). To do this, I identify and analyse the GBV-related concerns of the refugees to effectively design programmes. I ensure that protection issues faced by women and adolescent girls in the refugee camps and host communities are mitigated. For instance, we learnt that a lot of women and girls felt insecure at night in the camps, so we prioritised installing solar street lights so they could move about safely.

I used to work for the Ministry Of Women and Child Affairs as a clinical psychologist. From that experience, my interest in working with vulnerable groups developed. It was during the same time that I found out about the violence Rohingya women experienced in Myanmar. I learnt about the systemic rape, torture and brutality these women had faced. I realised that these Rohingya women who had managed to flee were going through immense psychological trauma. So I applied to CARE International, to work with Rohingya women in the camps to support their mental well-being.

The best part of my job is supporting women to eradicate GBV from their society and create opportunities for women’s empowerment. In my daily work, I try to encourage Rohingya women to be strong and help them understand their rights.

After work I return home and clean my house. I do different things to de-stress from my hectic work day such as watch television, listen to songs and talk with my family.

Portrait of Samapti Chakma
Samapti Chakma is technical coordinator on gender-based violence and protection

Samapti Chakma: “Every minute there is work to do”

I wake up and every minute there is work to do. The life of a humanitarian is run by the clock. I go to bed checking my emails and making sure not to forget to set the alarm. I also pack my bag at night, containing my laptop and charger, water bottle, ID, documents and some dry biscuits or fruits for energy supply. After some well-deserved sleep, the alarm goes off.

My job involves making sure all areas of the humanitarian response take gender, and the protection of women and girls, into account.

On a typical day I travel to the camp, and the children welcome me, and ask me lots of questions. In fact that is part of my work: I have to consult the community women, girls, men and boys about our services and I assess their needs. I usually come back home around 9:30pm.

My favourite moment was working on an initiative to provide communal laundry with Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) facilities, which is essential considering the poor menstrual hygiene practices and lack of privacy for women and girls in the camps.

I am very satisfied with my role as it meets my life goal to work for justice and equality. I do in-depth basic gender training with the staff from different sectors, to help them understand gender harmful practices and beliefs which not only helps them at a professional level but also at a personal level.

After work: In the humanitarian sector, it is hard to give quality time to your family. By the time I go back home my family goes to bed. But I try to spend time with my family and friends during the weekend. Cooking is my favourite leisure activity. It also helps me heal psychologically if I am stressed. Other than cooking I also love spending time with my female humanitarian colleagues. We meet occasionally to relieve our stress and share advice to support each other.

CARE’s response

More than 900,000 refugees are now living in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. CARE is directly reaching nearly 150,000 people through health services (including 4 health centres, 34 nutrition centres, and training of 500 staff), WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene - including deep-tube wells, latrines, hand-washing facilities, and women-only bathing cubicles), shelter, protection and gender-based violence support (including 12 safe spaces for women and girls), and site management.

This is now a long-term crisis with no end in sight, and more funds are needed in order to continue to provide support to refugees in Bangladesh. Ram Das, assistant country director for CARE’s humanitarian response in Bangladesh, said:

The Rohingya refugee crisis should not end up as one of those forgotten ones in the world today. The refugees in the camps continue to live in extreme fragile and vulnerable conditions, needing continued assistance. We ought to ensure that they have access to their basic needs and live a life of dignity.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.