Rohingya Response: Privacy and Protection

Imagine the walls of your entire one-bedroom home are perforated, allowing any passerby an easy glimpse inside your private space at any time of day. Your nearest neighbor lives just a few feet away, and hundreds of people pass by your house on foot each day, leaving you exposed before each set of eyes.

As a Muslim woman, you cover your head and body even inside your own home, despite the stifling heat and no A/C or fan to keep you cool. As you sit on the wet, mud floor to breastfeed your infant, you worry about the coming monsoon rain and floods and try not to remember the violence and sexual trauma you barely escaped across the border. You wrap your scarf a little tighter, pull your baby a little closer, and continue to press on through the hardships, like you always have.

This is the reality of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Fleeing unimaginable violence in Myanmar, more than 900,000 Rohingya women, men, and children have crossed the border into neighboring Bangladesh since August of 2017. The once lush, green foothills of forest reserve outside Cox’s Bazar are now stripped down to bare dirt and covered in bamboo and tarpaulin shelters for miles. Bangladesh, already one of the most densely populated and impoverished countries in the world, has made huge strides in providing safety and order for the swelling refugee population and the international community has sprung into action to meet the needs of this sprawling new city, but the magnitude of this crisis coupled with the needs of other protracted crises around the world is stretching aid workers and resources thin.

This is where Every Shelter comes in. We are helping aid organizations and their field staff by providing good, economical design that makes limited resources stretch further. As I walked through campsites sponsored by a partner organization and spoke with residents, they pointed out one unmet need that we could do something about.

Remember the perforated walls I mentioned earlier? Many of the shelters in Cox’s Bazar are made of woven bamboo walls, which is a common building technique in the area and has many benefits (locally sourced, allows some airflow, utilizes local craftsmanship in production). But treating bamboo is a long, laborious process, and due to the sudden demand for large quantities of bamboo, much of it has not been properly treated. Consequently, within months of construction, the bamboo strips contract, leaving large holes in the walls and eliminating the possibility of privacy.

Privacy is naturally a priority to most people, but considering the trauma and sexual violence many of these women and children endured before fleeing Myanmar, it is of paramount importance here. Most relief organizations’ budgets for shelter are already maxed out with making preparations for monsoon season, leaving very little finances left to fix the privacy problem. Working closely with our partner, we’ve developed an inexpensive privacy curtain that can be sourced and produced locally. This adjustable curtain allows  individuals to choose how much airflow or privacy they require at any moment. It’s a simple solution that restores dignity, autonomy, and protection to the people living in the shelter.

Written by Nicole Iman for Every Shelter – 08.12.2018

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