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, nearly 750,000 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.

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Noella Kabale Kalu

Advisory Board Member

Kampala, Uganda

Noella Kabale Kalu is a Congolese by nationality, living in Uganda as a refugee registered in the urban setting since 2011. She is the founder of REAL Uganda and Refugee Women Voices, a member of the Refugee-led Network (RELON), Refugee Representative at the CRRF steering working group. She aspires to build a society where women, men, and young females are treated with dignity, fairness, and respect, regardless of their status & and vulnerable conditions they find themselves in due to war, conflict, or other atrocities.

Andy Agaba

Advisory Board Member

Kampala, Uganda

Andy Agaba is a Praxis Fellow and the founder of Hiinga, a Christian Impact Investing Fund working across a spectrum of sectors including healthcare, financial services, education, agriculture, and manufacturing in East Africa. He graduated from Harvard Kennedy School where he was a Gleitsman Innovation Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership. At Uganda's Makerere University, he was a Poli sci major. Andy advises at the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship and is an award-winning documentary photographer.

Marie Nyiraneza

Advisory Board Member

Nakivale, Uganda

Marie is a Social Worker, currently working with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) as a Community Paralegal in Nakivale Refugee Settlement, and Interpreter for Refugee Resettlement Programs. Marie is a refugee from Rwanda and has lived in Nakivale Refugee Settlement since 2008. She holds a Bachelor in Social Work and a CEFE Licence for Entrepreneurship Trainer. She is passionate about contributing to the improvement of refugee livelihoods and is also a Master Trainer for the MarketPlace Literacy Program in Nakivale.

Sam Brisendine

Co-Founder and Board Member

Houston, Texas

As a designer from the private sector, I'm passionate about ideas that improve the lives of those in need. My experience designing buildings, products, and art has taught me an important lesson: The most meaningful work is produced when partners work hand-in-hand on a common mission. Over the past 5 years, I've watched Every Shelter transform from an academic pursuit to working (and learning) alongside world-class organizations to design solutions that bring dignity to displaced communities. I have never been more proud of the work we're doing and look forward to seeing how we can continue to collaborate to solve the challenges ahead.

Stefanie Cortez

Communications Specialist

Dallas, Texas

At Every Shelter I have the unique opportunity to use two passions in my life, mathematics and parenting, in one position. As a mathematician, I appreciate effective, elegant, and well-developed solutions to a problem. As a mom of two little ones, I also know the importance of sharing the stories, challenges, and successes of my life with my kids and others. As Communications Specialist for Every Shelter, I have the opportunity to inform the public about innovative designs as well as share the stories of people who are resolutely rebuilding their lives in new communities and countries despite overwhelming challenges. I believe that every person who reads about our work has the ability to impact people’s lives across the globe as they follow along with the journey to help people rebuild their lives from the floor up.

Lauren Hanson

Development Officer

Houston, Texas

As a mother to two young children, I cannot imagine the fear and despair I would feel if I was forced to leave the comfort of my home and community. The fact that this is a growing reality for so many people around our world is truly heartbreaking. I believe our compassion can make a significant impact in the lives of these displaced populations. As Melinda Gates writes, “Philanthropy is not about the money. It’s about using whatever resources you have at your fingertips and applying them to improving the world.” Therefore, it is my privilege to mobilize people to make a global impact with their time, gifts, and resources through partnering with Every Shelter as we labor to bring better provisions and life dignifying solutions to forcefully displaced populations.

Loise Wambui

Program Coordinator

Kampala, Uganda

I am deeply committed to advocating for joint solutions to economic and social development issues. I consider myself a global citizen with cross-cultural experience working as an economist in Eswatini, a Girl Scout volunteer in rural Switzerland, and teaching in Mathare, one of Kenya's largest slums. My desire to work towards dignified shelter solutions for vulnerable people started while working in Mathare Slums. Four years later, I am now working with and for refugees in Uganda. I have loved using my many abilities in this new sector, and my favorite thing has been working with local small enterprises and refugee organizations to sew the tarps! As someone conscious of how my own actions affect the wider community, I am always learning new ways to help make things a little better.

Nicole Iman

Co-Founder and CPO

Ras al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

I’ve been traveling the globe in development-related pursuits for more than 20 years, working with people throughout the varied stages of displacement. During my tenure in Afghanistan, I saw first-hand the challenges my Afghan colleagues faced that caused them to flee for their lives. While studying in northern Uganda, I met families struggling through years of displacement despite multiple attempts to return home. Through volunteer resettlement work in the US, I welcomed resettled refugees hoping to rebuild their lives in a new place while mourning the loss of friends and family they left behind. I am keenly aware of the human tendency to look at images of displaced people and refugees and immediately categorize them as “other.” Through joining Every Shelter, I have the chance to share stories that can change that category to “one another” and help us work together toward dignified, human-centered solutions.

Scott Key

Co-Founder and CEO

Houston, Texas

The process of designing new approaches and solutions to grave issues drives me. I believe the private sector and its vast reserves of professional skills and resources can fruitfully add to the productivity of ongoing humanitarian efforts to create a more just and merciful society. We all have a responsibility to do our part, but I firmly believe that in giving of ourselves we receive far more back than we give. Wendell Berry writes, “life is a gift we have only by giving it back again.” As a father of two young daughters, I want to model the intelligent, diligent, and hard-working compassion toward our neighbor to which I believe we are all obliged. It’s urgent and important work that we do.