Moury Rahman, Oxfam Senior Public Health Promotion Officer, talks about the kindness she’s experienced working in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh – for World Kindness Day, November 13, 2020
The kindness of the community and support we have received has helped me in my work and with my mental health. Their hospitality and warm greetings make me feel part of the community. I am always astonished by the kindness of souls who survive on so little.
I have experienced so much kindness, working as a humanitarian in a hostile environment. I can recall zillions of stories I could share, but one, in particular, left a mark on my heart.
I started my job two months after Rohingya refugees fled to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It was the month of October in 2017. The weather was unpredictable; it would be raining and then suddenly too hot.
One day, our water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion (WASH) team were moving to a camp called Balukhali. Refugees were arriving every day after registering in the transit camp. We used to follow the entrance of the camp from the main road to get into the block. No other NGO had reached this area yet.
Balukhali camp was established on hills. Refugees were settling on the slope of the hills. No road had been constructed by then; all the hardly accessible pathways were muddy and narrow. We had to walk for several kilometres and climb several hills to reach the particular block at the edge of the camp.
It used to rain a few times a day and we could not use umbrellas, because our umbrellas would stick in-between the roofs of the tents while passing the narrow pathways. Using an umbrella or holding anything was challenging; it was tough to keep balanced on the muddy roads and steep slopes.
The camp was full of open defecation; there was no pit toilet and a safe drinking water point had not been constructed as it was taking some time for households to settle. People did not have food to eat and mostly elderly people and children were suffering from diarrhoea.
People were taking shelter under trees in the entrance of the camp to get tarpaulin, bamboo and other materials to make their own houses as recommended by site management and the Bangladesh Army. Besides all this, the trauma they had recently experienced back in Myanmar and while travelling to Bangladesh was still visible. Women were crying out loud, explaining who and what they had lost and how hard their lives had become.
During this time it was not easy to work – overcoming all the accessibility issues and doing community consultation for site selection to construct pit toilets and water points. Those days were too tiring; we had to walk crossing water, muddy roads, and climb hills.
One day our team was assigned to move to one of the remote corners of Balukhali camp called M block.
It had been raining since the morning and we found two ways to access the camp – either climbing 6 to 7 small and big hills or crossing a water body full of mud up to our knees. Our team realized climbing hills and walking on the slope of them would not be easy and could cause an accident.
We decided crossing the half kilometre water body would be easier. When we tried to step in, we found we got stuck in the mud and could not move.
Seeing our struggle, a group of male refugees showed up and made a temporary bamboo bridge using the bamboo they just had received and carried few kilometres to make their shelters.
It was not easy even then to cross the bridge since it was moving and we could not keep our balance, taking help from other team members. The kindness on that day helped us reach our destination and support a vulnerable group of people including women, children and elderly men and women.
I could not hold my tears when many times community members would bring their only mat outside of their tiny households for us to sit on after seeing us tired and losing energy. They even used to ask us if we were hungry and would want some food, knowing that they themselves did not have enough food for their families.
Working in emergencies is challenging and considering the hostile context, it requires mental resilience to keep us motivated. The kindness of the community and support we have received has helped me in my work and with my mental health. Their hospitality and warm greetings make me feel part of the community.
I am always astonished by the kindness of souls who survive on so little.