A Letter of Gratitude to Frontline Humanitarian Workers in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp - CARE
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A Letter of Gratitude to Frontline Humanitarian Workers in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

All photos by CARE

All photos by CARE

All photos by CARE

It's because of colleagues like these that CARE has been able to be at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, delivering critical aid in Bangladesh and to other vulnerable communities around the world.

Ayesha Siddika, a case worker supporting CARE’s Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention programs, has been working tirelessly the last three weeks in the Rohingya camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which looks deserted despite being the largest refugee camp in the world as people practice social distancing. Her family is concerned but she goes on undeterred. Her focus is clear: the Rohingya community needs to stay safe as even a single positive COVID case could create havoc.

Driven by the same goal, Tayeb Ali Parmanik, who manages a camp with more than 33,000 Rohingya refugees, turns up every day determined to keep them well informed and 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’s responsible for Camp 14 and makes sure that the coordination of all camp-related activities continues 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 any way she can. Anne spends sleepless nights drawing up proposals to raise funds so that programs can continue uninterrupted. Her family and friends in the U.K. worry for her safety in Bangladesh, while she prays for the safety of friends back home living in isolation and potentially being positive for COVID-19.

Azizul Haque, the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program Manager, leaves for the camp early each day. He makes sure 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. It’s not an easy task to ensure the smooth execution of this 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 team.

40,000 people live per square kilometer on average in Cox’s Bazar

As colleagues like Ayesha, Tayeb, Azizul and Anne work selflessly, they have found ways of de-stressing and staying motivated. Ayesha has taken to daily meditation and reading. Anne has ensured her daily fitness routine continues. She now exercises indoors using online videos. A nature lover, she opens her windows for fresh air (as it is now free of so much 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 for CARE’s 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 CARE’s goal of serving the vulnerable and keeping them safe. This drives them to do the work every day.

Ankhi Barua, Case Manager, Host Community GBV Project, is four months pregnant and bravely fighting apprehensions about 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 and 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 CARE keeps them going day after day. Anne says it doesn’t 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.

It is more important than ever to share, discuss and help each other. These are unprecedented times and we have to be considerate towards ourselves.

Ankhi Baura

Besides compassion and empathy, one of the factors driving everyone to go above and beyond is the strong support from their families and colleagues. They all say their families stand behind them, supporting their decisions to continue to work on 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 refugees don’t get proper water to drink. Kanika’s daughter gives her the positive spirit and Johora’s family chat with her every day to boost her confidence and provide much needed psychological support.

It’s because of colleagues like these that CARE has been able to be at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, delivering critical aid. They are leading by example and are living CARE’s mission every day. They demonstrate a rare sense of resilience during 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 it. But we have to transition and thrive in change. That makes 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. Knowing that we will be living with COVID-19 for some time, it is important that we set a routine for ourselves as we juggle a multitude of changes, including roles and responsibilities and work schedules. It is 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 family 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.

To all the heroes out there, may your service to the people of Bangladesh and among the refugees never be forgotten.

As we fight this unique battle, we should take a moment every day or every week at least to reflect on our learnings and observations. Whether you journal it or not, spending some time to dwell on the day or week, reflecting on the highs and lows, counting blessings and resetting if required, will help us prepare better and 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 at this time.

Amid 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 among the refugees never be forgotten.