“I volunteer because I can save people’s lives,” says Aslam Hossain—a Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteer for more than 24 years.
Aslam lives in a coastal community at risk of cyclones, tidal surges, flooding, heavy rain and high winds. In May 2019, as Cyclone Fani approached the delta where he and neighbors live, Aslam grabbed his megaphone and jumped on the back of a motorbike. His friend navigated the community’s narrow brick pathways—which are flanked by water—while Aslam warned residents of the incoming danger. As winds picked up, Aslam was injured by a falling tree. Still, he insisted on working. Heeding his warning, Aslam’s neighbors made their way safely to the nearby evacuation center to wait out the storm.
Prepping for the Next Storm
Aslam and his teammates don’t just volunteer when storms hit. Instead, they prepare communities ahead of time. As part of the Coastal Disaster Risk Reduction program—a joint effort between the Bangladesh Red Crescent and American Red Cross—the volunteers join in large-scale disaster simulations that teach families what to do when emergencies strike.
A recent disaster simulation in South Khali, Bangladesh attracted a boisterous crowd of men, women and children. They walked those same brick and mud pathways to watch the spectacle and learn strategies for staying safe next time a disaster happens.
A loudspeaker announces information to the crowd as music blares—creating an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Once the simulation begins, it’s all eyes on the volunteers. They demonstrate a typical day in the coastal village: people fishing, cooking, dancing, kids jumping rope. But it’s soon clear that a “storm” is rolling in. Volunteers raise the cyclone warning flags to indicate impending danger. Others go door-to-door, notifying residents of the storm and giving instructions about whether to evacuate. Suddenly, a firehose spurts huge plumes of water and the “cyclone” has begun. Kids slip and fall. Adults get injured. Red Crescent volunteers provide first aid. And families evacuate to a well-constructed shelter.
The audience is glued to the disaster simulation—taking in all the details so they know what to expect if a cyclone nears their town again. The loudspeakers continue to blare information about staying safe and mothers make sure their kids are paying attention. This simulation isn’t just for fun. This simulation will potentially save their lives.
Once the simulation ends, Aslam and his team gather to celebrate. They speak about what worked and what could have gone better. They answer questions from the crowd and laugh at how much mud and water the “cyclone” created.
Beyond Disaster Simulations
While simulations are an effective tool to mitigate risk, they’re not the only learning tool in coastal Bangladesh. The American Red Cross works alongside the Bangladesh Red Crescent on comprehensive activities that prepare families for all types of emergencies. Together, the Red Cross and Red Crescent also teach basic first aid to students (ages 13-17) and community members; fund the construction of brick pathways that lead to cyclone evacuation shelters; ensure that residents understand the government’s early warning system; know when/how to evacuate and repair broken water systems.
When an evacuation order is given, Red Crescent volunteers warn residents through door-to-door visits and community megaphones. Given many families live in houses made from tin, bamboo, and wood, these activities are especially critical. “By volunteering, I can help people find safe shelter and reduce cyclone damage,” insists Aslam, whose arm is now healed.