Five lessons from five months of responding to the Rohingya crisis

January 25, 2018

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It is five months today since 688,000 forcibly displaced Rohingyas migrated to Bangladesh from Myanmar. BRAC has been on the ground delivering humanitarian support from two weeks after the influx began. To date, we have reached over 620,000 Rohingyas with critical services, making up the largest civil society response to the crisis.

Here are five lessons from what we have learnt over the last five months:

Solutions must be taken not just to doorsteps, but into actual homes

According to the UNFPA, every woman and girl in the Rohingya settlements is in danger of sex trafficking. As a result, many women and girls do not leave the safety of their homes – a huge challenge when delivering awareness messages and creating a prevention and protection system.

We took the solutions into homes. A 12-session protection and prevention programme is conducted by protection workers inside the homes of Rohingya volunteers, where women and girls can easily attend. In these sessions, women and girls are becoming aware of dangers they need to look out for, and learning prevention methods to keep themselves and each other safe. This is also helping to build a strong support network within the community.

Outreach workers on their door-to-door visits. Photo credit: BRAC/Munem Wasif

The host community must be meaningfully included.

We currently have 2,300 humanitarian workers on the ground, 1,100 of which are from the host community – and speak the same dialect as the new arrivals. Through their work, they are directly involved in the crisis, and getting to know the people personally in it – rather than just being affected by their arrival. Further livelihood opportunities are created for the host community by engaging them in all humanitarian programming. We have also been consistently expanding our programming to support the host community in the areas of education, livelihood, child protection, health and water, sanitation and hygiene.

What will actually work on the ground must take priority over all else.

Child-friendly spaces in emergencies are not a new concept – but what is crucial about them is not only that they provide safety, but that communities see the value in placing their children in them. Every day, our 215 child-friendly spaces ring with the sounds of 17,000 children reciting kabbiya (traditional Rohingya poetry). The introduction of the choruses has brought a new sound to communities – the sound of home. The curriculum in the spaces was designed after assessing what children need and would benefit from, and includes physical activity and art therapy as ways to deal with trauma in a positive manner and continue learning.

Over 17,000 children attend our 215 child-friendly spaces every day. Photo credit: BRAC/Munem Wasif

Delivering is crucial, but listening is also very quickly possible.

Speed of delivery is often the main focus during a humanitarian crisis, and less concentration is given to seeking feedback on the services delivered. Partnering with the World Food Program and the Emergency Telecomm cluster in the inter-sector coordination group, we piloted a Services 4 Communities mobile-based application that became a platform for people to give feedback on the services provided, as well as voicing their most pressing needs. This crucial service is not only helping us to ensure that the community has a strong voice in everything we do, but it is also allowing other humanitarian actors to design programmes according to needs from the start.

Photo credit: BRAC/Kamrul Hasan

The people closest to the challenge are often the most helpful in finding the solution.

1,000 Rohingya volunteers are now working with us, going door to door to deliver messages and build awareness. During a recent diphtheria outbreak, these volunteers are the ones who delivered life-saving messages to each home, saving many lives. This is also building a strong network of knowledgeable individuals within the community, increasing access to information for everyone and helping to decentralise power over information dissemination.



Iffat Nawaz is the head of external relations and communications of BRAC’s humanitarian crisis management programme. 

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