By Penny Sims, British Red Cross
“My son is trapped!”
“We need a doctor!”
“My family left me behind!”
In a community centre in Tansimorkhola, at the southern end of the giant camp that is home to almost 800,000 people who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, some impressive acting is going on. Staff and volunteers from a Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and Danish Red Cross psychosocial programme are putting local community volunteers through a series of likely scenarios for both monsoon and cyclone season.
“When bad rains or winds come, it might be at night, or at a time when we are not here,” explains Danish Red Cross psychosocial delegate Marija Juzbasic. “The community volunteers will be the first ones to respond, they are here and will support their community.”
Knowing that many people will head to the youth and community centres as a safe place, four scenarios are acted out in those spaces and outside. A small child has lost his family; a boy is trapped under a collapsed building; an older disabled woman has been abandoned in her shelter; an angry man ignites fear amongst a distressed crowd.
Sadly, all these situations are likely. Shelters have already collapsed under heavy rains, less mobile residents struggle to get help, and children become lost in the sprawl of the camp. Come monsoon season, these issues will worsen.
The community volunteers’ outreach work has helped to identify the fears and issues among residents, and those who will be most vulnerable in an emergency. Volunteers have already been working on simple interventions, such as teaching small children basic information in case they get lost. In the confusion of a major storm, this could save lives.
Community volunteer Borhan Uddin, 20, explains why he took on this role at the camp, which is also called Tanzimorkula:
“By working here I can help my community more. I know their pain. I am from the same place as them.
“I work with men and women’s groups. And with children, teaching them to remember their name, their parents’ names, and their block in case they get lost.”
The group have made a real difference to their community, who now seek out the volunteers for help.
“People call out ‘please, come and see me!’ when the volunteers go by,” explains Marija. “We help them to cope, but people here have so many worries – food, shelter, the absolute basics. Also elephants that come into this area of the camp. And on top of everything else – their experiences before coming here and their daily struggles – now they are facing monsoon season.”