“We all struggle together and we can all help each other,” says Sukutara—a mother of two living in a displacement camp in Bangladesh. Sukutara has faced a lot of uncertainty since fleeing her home country, but she has turned her pain into a force for good.
Since August 2017, more than 700,000 people have fled Rakhine State, Myanmar to seek safety in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Many arrive injured, malnourished and devastated. They speak of dangerous journeys—walking days on end to reach the border and losing touch with family members along the way. Once in Bangladesh, they crowd into camps on muddy hillsides and live in structures made of bamboo, plastic, cardboard and sometimes corrugated metal sheeting. Monsoon rains and dangerous cyclone seasons put migrants at risk of landslides, floods and destructive wind. Watch this video for footage from the camps.
Despite harsh conditions—and because there’s no possibility of evacuating the displacement camp during cyclones—migrants volunteer to help their neighbors prepare for natural disasters and other emergencies.
“I tell people how to strengthen their homes when a storm is approaching and how to stay safe,” says Sukutara, who received disaster training and preparedness skills from the American Red Cross. As a cyclone preparedness volunteer, she’s responsible for educating her neighbors about the camp’s early warning system, answering questions about how to secure tarp roofs during periods of high wind, and giving basic advice about staying safe during storms and floods.
She and her fellow cyclone preparedness volunteers also learn first aid: a skill that’s proven lifesaving over and over again in Cox’s Bazar. Migrants tell of treating their neighbors for snake bites, heart attacks, falls, and other injuries related to the camp’s dangerous landscape.
“Being a woman, I have more access to women. They rely on me!”
Sukutara fled her home nearly two years ago. Her husband lost his life, but she made it across the border safely with her two young children. She and her family are surviving on food, water, healthcare and other assistance from the humanitarian community—including from the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network. But she doesn’t want aid to define her experience. Instead, she finds pride in her work with the Red Cross, stating, “Volunteering brings me dignity. My community respects me because I serve them.”
Sukutara is especially proud of her work with fellow women. In a camp where men often take the lead, she has stepped up to fill a critical void of educating moms and children. “Being a woman, I have more access to women. They rely on me!”
Staying busy has been good for Sukutara during this uncertain time in her life, but she holds on to hope for a different kind of future: yearning for her children to have access to education and longing to see her grandmother one last time before she passes away.
2 years on, the American Red Cross continues its work in Cox’s Bazar
It’s been two years since the mass displacement of people from Rakhine State to Cox’s Bazar. Since the beginning, the American Red Cross has been working alongside the Bangladesh Red Crescent to provide lifesaving aid to the families. As part of the Bangladesh government’s Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP), the American Red Cross, Bangladesh Red Crescent, and IFRC are training thousands of camp residents and local (host) community members on first aid, early warning systems and other skills so they can respond to rain, wind, flooding, landslides and cyclones. In addition, the Red Cross supports disaster simulation drills and equips volunteers to warn fellow residents of danger via megaphones, a flag system, and even loudspeakers at mosques.
For more information about the American Red Cross’s international work, visit http://www.redcross.org/international