"By Nusrat Daud Pritha"
Fatema arrived in Bangladesh with her husband, two children and her seventy-five year old mother. From day one, toilet facilities were a major problem across all camps includingin Block D4 under Camp 1W where they all live. The toilet facility they had was built by themselves with bamboo, ring-slab and tarp. It wasn’t exactly a good facility, but it was better than going out in the open surrounded by thousands of refugees.
Right around January 2018, CARE completed building community latrines and bathing facilities for the refugees living in camps 1W and 1E. CARE provides WASH services in camps 16, 15, 14, 1W and 1E. This includes building latrines with bathing facilities, women-only bathing cubicles, deep tube-wells for safe water that can go as deep as 700 feet. 700 feet, CARE already reached over 50,000 people through 81 deep tube wells, 549 latrines, 466 hand-washing facilities and 673 women-only bathing cubicles to improve the condition of water and sanitation.
Fatema lives very close to one of the WASH sites developed by CARE. “Before, we had to go very far to fetch water. We had to wear burkas and bring water, a few times. The toilets were overcrowded and didn’t function at times. There were times, especially at night when we would dig a hole, finish defecating and cover-up the hole. But now, everything is so much easier and safe. We can use the facilities whenever we need. My mother lives with me and she is very old. It was very difficult for her; but since these facilities are built here, she can basically go by herself, I only need to hold her sometimes.” said Fatema with optimism in her eyes.
Fatema also describes how the facilities here are better than the ones in Myanmar. Their own latrine back home was a simple structure with bamboo fence and rings right beneath the slab. It was also 10-15 steps outside the main house. Also back in Myanmar, only richer people could build latrines with concrete walls. Moreover building permanent latrine structure requires special permissions from the authorities, which often involves bribing. And so, even though Fatema’s husband had a shop in Myanmar and could afford a better toilet, most families like them would build a simple one to avoid complications. Since the facility was a little away from their main house,she didn’t feel safe going out at night. If she or her children needed to use the latrine, she would always take her husband along.
For most of the refugees who fled the violence in Myanmar, having something as basic as better functioning WASH facilities is making their lives easier. “We feel safe even if we leave the doors open, but back in Burma (Myanmar), even locking the doors failed to make us feel safe. We are able to live here with peace.”
They were driven on the verge to flee their homeland when the houses in their village was being burned down; one of Fatema’s nephews was killed right in front of her. “I feared for the life of my children and fled the village. Once we reached higher grounds, we saw that people were being killed in groups, buried alive and bombs were dropped in the valley”, Fatema remembers with grief.
With anguish and frustration Fatema said, “If we went back without complete assurance for the safety of our lives, we would be killed. We want rights as a citizen, we want to be recognized as Rohingyas. We want freedom of movement, freedom to work and do dignified jobs and not having to pay bribes [for basic things]. Farmers and people alike had to pay a fixed toll to local influential people, regardless of what the income or the profit was.” Others listening in on the conversation nodded their heads in agreement and mumbled in their dialect.
Fatema is literate; as literate as most Muslim girls in Rakhine state can be. She had to drop out of school after completing grade six. Given her educational background, she was approached by many aid organizations here to volunteer as a teacher in schools for refugee children. She would have done so too, but soon after arriving in Bangladesh, Fatema had an operation, probably for appendix or gastric; she could not tell specifically. It’s been a few months since her operation. She realizes that they will have to stay in Bangladesh for some more time. In order to ensure a better life for her children and her mother in the days to come, Fatema is now eager to start a teaching job; preferably near her shelter in Block D4.