By Minaz Kerawala, Communications and Public Relations Advisor
In November 2022, Caritas Bangladesh invited Development and Peace and other Caritas Internationalis members to an international partners’ meeting to help review its emergency response program for Rohingya refugees. Delegates visited the camps in Cox’s Bazar that house the world’s single largest refugee population. This year’s Advent stories were gathered in and around those refugee camps.
It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.Isaiah 4:6
Although bamboo has more tensile strength than steel, poorly built bamboo structures can be flimsy. Strengthening them is a major concern for the Caritas Bangladesh engineers who design shelters for Rohingya people in the world’s largest refugee camp cluster in Cox’s Bazar.
Shelters to weather storms
Intending for the nearly one million Rohingya refugees to eventually return to Burma (Myanmar), the Government of Bangladesh does not want to impart any sense of permanence to the refugee camps. It therefore forbids the use of durable building materials like concrete. So, shelters must be made of bamboo and tarpaulin, neither of which hold up too well to the cyclones that often buffet this coastal region.
This is what makes Caritas Bangladesh’s shelter program vital. With funding from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and contributions from Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada’s donors, the program provides training and support for the building and maintenance of better-designed, more durable shelters.
“It is very important that our specifications are followed perfectly,” said Sanzida Rahman, Caritas Bangladesh’s shelter program manager. As an example, she pointed to a crossed tie-off that holds a demonstration bamboo frame together in a shelter training centre funded by GAC. “The engineers insist on this because it makes the structure stable,” Rahman explained. Unfortunately, she said, most people used to forget this step.
With funding from Global Affairs Canada and contributions from Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada’s donors, the program provides training and support for the building and maintenance of better-designed, more durable shelters.
The kind of work she does is usually the preserve of men, but that does not faze Fatima. […] She wears her helmet and high-visibility vest as badges of honour.
Her earnings help her provide better for her two daughters. But the work has also become a source of fulfilment.
Keeping the standards
Thankfully, that forgetfulness is no longer a problem because Noor Fatima just does not brook it. “I make sure that everything is done right,” the 25-year-old Rohingya woman asserted.
Fatima is a cash-for-work labourer in Caritas Bangladesh’s shelter and site improvement program. “I build drains and retaining walls; I assemble struts and bracings; I fabricate garanjas [ventilation lattices],” she said proudly. She probably gladdened the engineers’ hearts when she added, “And I always see to it that the cross ties are done properly.”
The guarantee of 16 days of work per month is what attracted Fatima to the work. Her earnings help her provide better for her two daughters. But the work has also become a source of fulfilment. “People are very happy and grateful when I build or repair their shelters or train them to do it themselves,” she said.
A strong woman’s work
The kind of work she does is usually the preserve of men, but that does not faze Fatima. “I have no trouble doing even heavy work. I can work on roofs, lift heavy loads and use a hacksaw,” she said. She wears her helmet and high-visibility vest as badges of honour.
“I encourage other women to sign up. It is good work for strong women,” Fatima said. Sending a cheery “Dhonyabaad” (thank you) to Canadians who support her employment, she added, “We need more of your generosity because there is so much to do here.”
Across the Global South, Development and Peace partners like Caritas Bangladesh transform people like Noor Fatima from recipients of help into the recipients of the gratitude and esteem of their people. And they can only do this with your support.
In this season of grace, please consider making a donation so that our partners can keep strengthening vulnerable communities.