Timothy Cohen from CAFOD’s emergency response team reflect back on his visit to Nepal. He talks about the role of an aid worker.
If someone tells you they’re an ‘aid worker’, how would you picture them? You probably think of someone who’s any (or all) of the following:
Photogenic (which rules me out!)
Holding a clipboard in a t-shirt with a cool logo
That’s certainly how we (the aid sector) have sold ourselves to the public for the past 20 years. It’s good for our image and our branding. And it’s not untrue either; but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
But if you’ve paid close attention, maybe you’ve noticed this narrative changing slightly over the past few years? Maybe you’ve noticed that members of the local communities, and the organisations that they work for, are in the spotlight more and more?
Jess, a member of the Asia and Middle East team recently met with Pakhi * a former migrant worker from Bangladesh who now helps other migrants to protect their rights.
When I met Pakhi, she described her experience of migrating to Kuwait as a young woman to take up employment as a domestic worker.
Pakhi explained, “I went to Kuwait to start sending money back to my elderly mother in Bangladesh and save up for my future. I worked in Kuwait for more than 2 years and I was forced to work around 20 hours a day by my employer. I was paid for only 6 months work and my passport was confiscated. I was confined to my employer’s house and I wasn’t allowed to contact my family back home”.
Tom Delamere is CAFOD’s Bangladesh Programme Officer. Here he tells us about his recent visits to Bangladesh, a country struggling to cope with the arrival of more than 582,000 refugees from Myanmar, on top of the devastating effects of recent flooding.
On landing in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s bustling capital city, two things immediately strike you. The first is the close, warm climate; growing up in the North of England didn’t really prepare me for South Asia’s summer temperatures. The second is just how busy the roads and streets are, ringing with vehicle horns, rickshaw bells and the movement of crowds of people.
Francis Atul Sarker is the executive director of Caritas Bangladesh, our local partner who is working around the clock to get emergency aid to the mainly Rohingya people, fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar. He gives this eyewitness account of life for the refugees in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.
When I think of the refugees that I visited in southern Bangladesh last week, I keep seeing a young girl with trauma written across her face. I asked where her parents were. She told me she was an orphan, being looked after by a neighbour from their village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. It was heart-breaking.
Today marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. CAFOD’s Programme Officer in Cambodia, Sorphoarn Sok meets indigenous land activist Hean Heak to find out more about how he is helping his indigenous community stand up for their rights in Cambodia and defend their land from land grabs by large companies.
Activist Hean Heak is from Ngorn, a remote village in Kampong Thom province in central Cambodia which is home to the Kuoy Indigenous Peoples.
Maggie Mairura from Nottingham shares her experience of a recent visit the Philippines to meet communities to who were helped after a devastating Typhoon.
Having stayed overnight in Sorsogon, we were up early on Sunday morning and left at 6am in the pouring rain. Much to the annoyance of our companions, myself and Ged Edwards, who I was travelling with, sang some songs with ‘rain’ in the title! We were soon silenced by breakfast sandwiches and a hot drink!!
The two-hour journey took us south to the barangay (village) of Daganas, outside the town of Bulan. The roads were framed by rice fields, coconut and banana trees. In some parts, the roads were edged with bamboo houses and shops, with washing hanging out to dry. Once we turned off the main road, we continued a good 30 minutes along lanes which got narrower the higher we went, dogs nonchalantly lying in our path, moving at the very last minute, just to let us know who was boss. In parts, the lane turned to tracks and we eventually arrived at Daganas. We were warmly welcomed by barangay captain, Jimmy, who invited us into his office, just off the basketball court, the centre of the village.
As we sat with him I noticed a group of women outside, looking in through the window so I excused myself and went out to meet them. They were all very keen to show me their new houses and Medina escorted me up the steep steps to her home. She explained how her previous home, made from bamboo, had been destroyed during Typhoon Melor (Nona) in December 2015 and how she was now very happy with her sturdier new home.
She lived there with her husband and 5 of her 8 children. The three eldest were in Manila working in fast food restaurants and sending home essential financial support. We headed down the steps and one of the women caught my attention and off we went to see her pig. Anna was the recipient of the livelihood scheme and had been given a sow. Once a litter arrived she was required to ‘pass on the gift’ and give one of the piglets to her neighbour. We continued through the back lanes of the barangay passing a family washing their clothes, livestock of ducks, hens and turkeys scurrying around, pumps for drinking water and general water use. We then met Melanie who as well as having a new sturdier home also had a co-op (sari sari) shop, one of 3 in the barangay.
It was obvious that they were all very proud of their new homes and the means of providing for themselves and their families. There was also dignity in that they could provide not only for themselves but for their neighbours. As part of the programme after the typhoon, the community is encouraged to work together in self-help groups not only to sustain their community but also to be prepared for the eventual arrival of another typhoon! However, they felt more secure in the knowledge that their new homes would survive the next one. Wherever we travelled we saw large posters informing people that July was National Disaster Consciousness Month and that drills would be taking place nationwide. It certainly puts into perspective how we respond when we have a few flakes of snow!
As we made our way back to the minibus, the women began to ask me about my family and my work. I took out the photos I had brought for the trip and introduced them to my family. I had also taken some photos of our volunteers and I explained to them how our volunteers respond to emergency appeals and how we work through praying, giving and acting to support projects like the one here in Daganas. It was very humbling and moving to connect our volunteers with recipients of our appeals.
My overall experience of the emergency work and sustainable livelihood programmes is that NASSA/Caritas Philippines goes to communities that local and national government are not interested in – they go to those at the end of the tracks.
Two years on from the massive Nepal earthquakes, Milan Mukhia, who is based in Kathmandu and works for CAFOD’s partner, Cordaid, tells us about an innovative way your donations are helping people get back on their feet.
On 25 April 2015, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the area to the north of Kathmandu in Nepal. This was the country’s worst disaster in living memory; nearly 9,000 people died, thousands more were injured, and 600,000 lost their homes and income.
Just over two weeks later, on 12 May, a second 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, adding to the destruction.
As Lent comes to an end, Step into the Gap volunteer, Charlotte Bray, who is currently volunteering at Newman Chaplaincy, reflects on her recent trip to Cambodia and how this has inspired her Lent challenge.
When I travelled to Cambodia, as part of the Step into the Gap programme, I went with the expectation that I would meet some incredible people. I never realised that the encounters I had would have such a transformative effect on my life.
While I was in Cambodia, I had the pleasure of meeting an incredibly strong and resilient woman called Suong, she taught me a profound lesson that has changed the way I view the world.
During her visit to Cambodia, Lizzie Haydon, who is taking part in the Step into the Gap programme, spent time with a Cambodian community and spoke to a family, who have worked with CAFOD partner Srer Khmer, to receive training and resources.
During our second week in Cambodia, we visited rural communities supported by CAFOD partner Srer Khmer. One of the communities Srer Khmer work with is Lvear village in Pouk district, Siem Reap and we were honoured to be able to spend the night in the village, getting to know the villagers and understand their lives that little bit better.
James Ronan, who is currently taking part in CAFOD’s Step into the Gap, talks about the village communities he spent time with in Cambodia where local organisations are empowering communities to change their lives for the better.
Cambodia’s long history, most recently the civil war and the Khmer Rouge regime, has “left many communities broken”, said Singha, one of the founding members of CAFOD partners, Village Support Group (VSG).