Heroes are made in times of crisis: CARE Bangladesh colleagues lead the way

By Ram Das, Deputy Country Director, Humanitarian Response, CARE Bangladesh

Ayesha Siddika has been working tirelessly for the last three weeks, moving from one community group to another in the Rohingya refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar 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-19 positive case can create havoc. Ayesha is a Case Worker, supporting the prevention of gender-based violence (GBV) work with CARE in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camp, 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 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 skips a beat every time he speaks with his 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.

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 CARE's programs here can continue uninterrupted. Her family and friends in the UK are worried about her, while she prays for the safety of her friends who are living in isolation as suspected COVID-19 positive cases increase back home.

Azizul Haque, the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) 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 that the spraying of disinfectant continues. It's not an easy task to ensure the smooth execution of these essential services 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 WASH team.

As colleagues like Ayesha, Tayeb, Azizul and Anne work selflessly, they have found ways of easing stress and keeping motivated. 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 her windows for fresh air (as it is now devoid of pollution and noise) and to listen to the 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 our front line workers as the safety and 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, is the Case Manager for the Host Community GBV (gender-based violence) Project and is four months pregnant, bravely dealing the fear of infection. She has now opted to 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.

CARE session at Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

These colleagues unwavering commitment to CARE's mission 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 above and beyond is the strong support from their families and colleagues. As they all say in unison, their families have stood behind them, supporting their decision to continue to work on the front lines despite their fear and anxiety. Azizul recollects how his family supported him in his work the moment they realized that they live in the comfort of a city while the refugees do not get proper water to drink. Kanika’s daughter helps her stay positive and Johora’s family chat with her every day to boost her confidence and provide much needed emotional support.

It is because of colleagues like these that CARE has been able to be at the forefront of 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 work through this pandemic and the uncertainty that it has posed. As the saying goes, 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 adapt 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, significant for many while not so much for others. Regardless, knowing full well that this is going to be here for some time, it is important that we set a routine for ourselves as we juggle 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 is 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 our learning and observations. Whether you journal or not, spending some time to look back on the day or week, reflecting on the highs and lows, counting blessings and resetting if required will help us all better prepare and emerge stronger. Personal well-being is often most neglected in these kinds of situations, but it is so important to keep ourselves fired up to keep going. Let’s focus even more on our mental and physical well-being and stability because it is "okay to not be okay" 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 the refugees never be forgotten.

CARE is responding to COVID-19 in some of the most vulnerable communities around the world to save lives.