by Ram Das
Ayesha Siddika has been working tirelessly for last three weeks, moving from one community group to another in the Rohingya camp at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, which wears a deserted look as people are indoors and do not crowd common areas. Her family is naturally concerned but she goes on undeterred. Her focus is very clear – the Rohingya community needs to stay safe as even a single COVID positive case can create havoc. Ayesha is a Case Worker, supporting the prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV) work of CARE in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps, the largest refugee camp in the world today.
Driven by the same goal, Tayeb Ali Parmanik, who manages a camp with more than 33,000 Rohingyas, turns up every day determined to keep them well informed & safe. While he longs to be with his family and his heart misses a beat every time he speaks with his differently-abled child, Tayeb knows he cannot leave the mission unaccomplished. He is responsible for Camp 14 and makes sure that the coordination of all camp-related activities continue unhindered
At a time when one would have felt secure in the comfort of the family, Anne Dawson, who leads Program Development, is finding strength in being able to make a difference in every way she can. Anne spends sleepless nights drawing up proposals to raise funds so that the programs can continue uninterrupted. Her family & friends in the UK are worried while she prays for the safety of a few of her friends who are living in isolation as suspected COVID positive cases back home.
Azizul Haque, the WASH Program Manager leaves for the camp very early each day. He makes sure that the refugees have access to clean water, the sanitation facilities are up and running, hygiene is maintained around the camp through regular water disposal and spraying of disinfectant continues. Not an easy task to ensure the smooth execution of these in an overcrowded camp, but Azizul leads from the front and takes on each day as it comes. He attributes the continuity to his dedicated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team.
As colleagues like Ayesha, Tayeb, Azizul and Anne work selflessly, they have found ways of de-stressing and keeping the motivation on. Ayesha has taken to meditation daily and reading. Anne who is a health enthusiast has ensured her daily fitness routine continues. She now exercises indoors using online videos. Being a nature lover, she opens out her windows for fresh air (as it is now devoid of pollution and noise) and to listen to birds’ merry chirps.
Office Manager Kanika Rani Mitra draws support from her family, especially her daughter. Her positive spirit keeps driving her as she engages herself in the office administration work as well as conducting Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) training of our frontline workers as the Safety & Security Focal Point.
There are also colleagues like Johora Rima, Senior Technical Officer, Nutrition who are engaging with teams virtually to collaborate, connect, discuss program issues, follow up on actions, planning etc. Kanika, Tayeb and Johora say that they are inspired by the organizational goal of serving the vulnerable and keeping them safe and this drives them to work every day.
Ankhi Barua, Case Manager - Host Community GBV Project who is four months pregnant, is bravely fighting apprehensions of infection. She has now opted for work for home. Being at home now, she has self-isolated herself. But has worked out a routine that keeps her mental & physical well-being balanced. She speaks to her family, friends and colleagues regularly, listens to music, cooks, maintains proper hygiene and eats healthy.
These colleagues’ unwavering commitment to the organization keeps them going day after day. Anne says that it does not take much imagination to see that this disease could be devastating to the most vulnerable people in the refugee camps, especially women and girls. The concern drives her to play a ‘small role’, as she calls it in helping CARE to support them as much as possible.
Besides compassion and empathy, one of the factors that is driving everyone to go over and beyond is the strong support from their families and colleagues. As they all say in unison, their families have stood behind them like rock, supporting their decision to continue to work at the front lines despite the fear and anxiety. Azizul recollects how his family supported him in his work the moment they realized that they live in the comfort of all facilities in a city while the refugees do not get proper water to drink. Kanika’s daughter gives her the positive spirit and Johora’s family who chat with her every day to boost her confidence and provide the much needed psychological support.
It is because of colleagues like these that CARE has been able to be at the fore front and delivering critical aid. They are leading by example and are living CARE’s mission every day. They all demonstrate a rare sense of resilience to tide over this pandemic and the uncertainty that it has posed. As it is said, the only thing constant is change. And change is complex. We experience an inventory of positive and negative emotions as we navigate through. But we have to transition and thrive in change. That would make us resilient. As I speak and discuss this change with my peers, friends, family and colleagues, I have begun to realize how important it is keep our focus on a few things.
Under the current situation, our roles, responsibilities and routines have undergone changes, significant for many while not so much for others. Regardless, knowing fully well that this is going to be here for some time, it is important that we set a routine for ourselves as we juggle with a multitude of changes with regard to roles and responsibilities and work schedules. It is now more important than ever to share, discuss and help each other. These are unprecedented times and we have to be considerate towards ourselves.
As we spend more time with families due to social distancing, let’s spend quality time and deepen relationships. Let’s check in on friends and colleagues regularly to ensure everyone’s safe. Let’s also not forget to respect each other and what we are all doing every day to make a difference.
As we fight this unique battle, we should take a moment every day or every week at least to reflect on the learnings/observations etc. Whether you journal it or not, spending some time to dwell on the day or week gone up, reflecting on the highs and lows, counting blessings and resetting if required will help us prepare better & emerge stronger. Personal well-being is often most neglected in such situations but most critical to keep ourselves fired up and going. Let’s focus even more on our mental and physical well-being and stability because it is `not’ ok to be `not ok’ at this time.
Amidst the tough times, I would like to acknowledge the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world and pay respect to all our humanitarian colleagues in CARE Bangladesh Cox’s Bazar. They are rendering service with compassion and commitment to help the world’s most vulnerable population, both inside and outside the Refugee camps. To all the heroes out there, may your service to the people of Bangladesh and amongst the refugees never be forgotten.
Ram Das is the Deputy Country Director for Humanitarian Response in CARE Bangladesh, leading the Rohingya Response in Cox’s Bazar.