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It’s another hot day in the camps in Cox’s Bazar despite being only 10am. The scorching heat has forced people to pull out their umbrella, seek shade under a tree or simply stay inside. Some women have found somewhere unique – they have made their way to Bangladesh Red Crescent Society’s dignity, access, participation and safety (DAPS) centre.
The community centre immediately offers a sense of calm and security for the women as they walk in. The new arrivals swiftly contribute to the sounds of the giggles and chatter already present in the room, which are occasionally interrupted by the noise of needles punching through fabric.
Without delay, the women take a seat behind a sewing machine, pick up the scissors, slice some material and adjust it under the needle. Once ready, they softly push on the foot pedal to activate the sewing machine.
They’ve just started tailoring, which is one of the two skill-based activities offered in the DAPS Centre of Hakimpara, one of the three set up in the camps. The DAPS Centre offers programmes focused on providing a safe space for survivors of violence, at-risk groups or otherwise excluded groups among the people who fled violence in Rakhine state in Myanmar. They include psychosocial support-style activities, such as origami and games sessions, and skills-based programmes. One is fishing-net making and repair, aimed at elderly men and elderly women, and one is sewing skills, for young women who are survivors of gender-based violence.
Jaynab is 35 years old and made the journey to Bangladesh on her own with her five children. The tailoring skills she has picked up at the centre are already making an impact on her family.
“I already see the benefits because now I can make my own clothes and clothes for my children. I want to pass on my skills to my children too,” says Jaynab.“
"After losing my land and belongings in Myanmar, I feel no peace at all. At home, I feel lonely and I cry a lot, but when I come here, I can make new friends, which makes me happy! Most of the time, I worry about my children and how to give them a better life, how to feed them. I’m always worried and disappointed. But I find hope it this centre and ways to help my family. It’s a little bit easier because I now have hope.”
The DAPS Centre provides more than skilled-based programmes to the women, it offers a safe space where ladies with similar experiences meet, share their feelings and seek advice. They bond with one another and find support in difficult times.
Rashida is just 18 years old – she fled Myanmar with her mother and was separated from the rest of her family amid the chaos of fleeing. She hasn’t seen her other family members for more than two years. When she comes to the community centre, she finds comfort and a way to escape worries from home.
“I feel unsafe and unsettled at home, but when I come here, I am happy, I can learn new skills, chat with other women, share my suffering and sorrows. I often come here because I enjoy it – I can learn new skills and therefore take care of my mum,” shares Rashida.
“It would be better if I had my brothers or father here. I have to do everything males have to do, such as picking up relief items like water and food, going to the shops – I struggle a lot. When I am at home, I have sorrows, worries and sadness – it is difficult with mum. But when I come here, I meet people and it makes me happy. I’d like to spend more time here. I feel better when I come here.”
Making fishing nets
Across the room from the sewing machines in action, four women are sitting on the mat, chatting quietly. They have brought their fishing net – or what will become a fishing net. Among them is Dildar, a 45-year-old woman wearing a colourful headscarf. Her journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh was a difficult one – 11 members of her family fled on foot, but only eight of them made it across the border.
“When I am at home, I am bored and I have to do the chores. Here, I meet other women with similar experiences, I feel better. It makes a little but fruitful meaning in my life as now I can help my family. I also receive respect having this skill. I have regained dignity.”
Some of the women regularly coming to the centre have also been able to learn basic English, mainly how to write their name and sign a document. These activities have resulted in a boost of confidence for some of the women, as well as a direct impact on their daily lives. For example, displaced people in the camps are asked to sign documents when receiving aid such as food and materials for their shelter, and if they don’t know how to sign, they are asked to use their fingerprints, which is often impractical and imprecise.
“I also feel proud because I now can write my name and read a bit of English. I already see the benefits when I collect the relief items and I no longer use my fingerprint. Using my fingerprints often brought confusion. This is something that sets me apart from other women and I like it very much, it makes me proud,” explains 20-year-old Jannat.
One million people in the camps of Cox's Bazar
More than one million people from Rakhine State in Myanmar are living in 34 extremely congested camps in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, heavily affecting an already vulnerable host population. People continue to face instability, health issues, poverty and natural and climatic hazards, resulting in the need for a prolonged humanitarian response. The DAPS centre is part of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society’s support to vulnerable people, helping them regain their dignity amidst their difficult living conditions.