A women's group give their feedback to Oxfam water expert Iffat in Bangladesh

Salahuddin Ahmed/ Oxfam

Life in a Rohingya refugee camp

“I’ve been here since the very worst times. When hundreds of Rohingya refugees were arriving every day,” says Iffat Tahmid Fatema, Senior Innovation Officer in Public Health Promotion & Community Engagement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

“I have heard terrible stories about the horrors people have faced. I didn’t think I would be able to do this job for long. But I have seen that I can make a change and that encourages me.

Like when my colleagues gave out solar lights to [help] women feel safer going to the toilet at night. Or when diphtheria was a real risk in the camp and we managed to convince people that the vaccination wouldn’t hurt them – and we got everyone protected.”

Close to a million Rohingya people have fled unimaginable atrocities in Myanmar to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Kutapalong Balukali mega camp, Cox’s Bazar, is the largest camp in the world, where close to 700,000 people are squashed into an area far too small to safely accommodate them. The number of people per square kilometre is more than 1000 times what is recommended for refugee camps.

More than half of the refugees there are women and girls. There are 120,000 pregnant women and new mothers. Around 36,000 are unaccompanied children.*

Women working with Oxfam to design safer toilets

The Women’s Social Architecture Project has been developed jointly with Oxfam, architects, and groups of women and adolescent girls living in the camps to design new toilets and wash rooms that are even safer and more private.

Oxfam and the Rohingya women designed four different structures in different camps, including a pole next to the toilet that pregnant women can grab onto for balance, and a bench seat in the shower room, so they can sit as they have their bath.

“The people I meet every day have been through so much. But I can see they have healthier and better lives because of the work you help us do. So, I send you my deepest thanks for your kind support,” says Iffat.

Oxfam has reached more than 266,000 people in the Rohingya camps since late 2017 and we are planning to reach 300,00 with your help.

As COVID-19 escalates, millions living in cramped and unhygenic conditions – with limited access to healthcare – desperately need help to stay safe. We are helping people minimise the risk of the coronavirus infection by providing them with accurate information and advice in local languages. Our teams are delivering clean water, handwashing facilities and soap to those most at risk. Donate now to support Oxfam’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oxfam's coronavirus emergency response appeal

*Source: UNHCR household survey

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