The overcast sky warns the coming of rain, a sign for Roshida, 32, to bring her brood inside the families’ simple one-room shelter.
"Wash yourselves and then come inside," says Roshida, calling to her five young children.
Marching in one-by-one, they heed to their mother’s request. Four-year-old Noor Fatima leads the pack. She fills the plastic pitcher in family’s water bucket and washes her face and hands, rinsing away layers of dust from playing in the muddy camp roads.
Refreshed, Noor Fatima joins her siblings for the lunch their mother has prepared. Wiping each plate dry, Roshida dishes out rations of hot rice and lentils for her children.
In the past year, life has changed dramatically for this young mother and her children. In August 2017, Roshida and her family were violently uprooted from their home in Myanmar, embarking on a treacherous journey to safety.
Killed while attempting to escape, Roshida’s husband was among the thousands of lives lost. With no time to grieve, Roshida instantly became a single parent. The daunting task of safeguarding her children’s lives alone confronted her.
"It is a sinking feeling when you are unable to provide even basic needs for your children,” shared Roshida. “I struggled. For me, safety was most important. The children cried for water and food, but we couldn't stop on the road. When I thought it was safe to pause, we quickly drank water wherever we could find it. Sometimes it was from a stream, sometimes a paddy field. On our way, we found an abandoned village. We rushed into the homes to see if there was anything to eat.”
Navigating through the sea of displaced people, Roshida and her children marched on in the torrential rain.
“The children started crying when they needed to relieve themselves,” says Roshida, recalling the harrowing trek to Bangladesh. “Often I had to make them understand to wait a little more time. There were too many people, and it was not possible to go in a field. As a mother of five, I was scared that someone would spot us. I didn't have my husband to protect us.”
With no money and no husband, Roshida found an empathetic boatman who ferried the family across the Naf River to the shores of Bangladesh. There they joined some 706,000 other Rohingya refugees who had fled to safety. Today Roshida and her children live in the world’s largest refugee camp.
The initial months posed challenging for Roshida’s family as they carved out a place to build a simple home in what had been a jungle, working in the burning sun and pouring rain.
Their home in Myanmar had been so very different. “We were farmers in Myanmar,” says Roshida. “Our home was surrounded with fruit trees and stream ran close by. Every house had a small pond. Our main water sources were wells and ponds. We used that water for washing and cooking. The school nearby had a big tank with drinking water. We boiled water before drinking it. It was a custom we learnt, although we had no training about safe water or hygiene practices.”
The lack of access to clean water and sanitation in the camp heightened the family’s misery. Roshida and her children felt ashamed and vulnerable when forced defecate openly in the fields —their only option.
“There were no toilets, no wells. It was all jungle and puddles,” says Roshida, recalling the early days in the camp. “A muddy stream was our only source of water. We had to find some bushes for cover when we went to relieve ourselves. I couldn’t send my children alone because there were rumours that they could be abducted.”
As a woman, Roshida struggled to maintain her dignity in the most rudimentary conditions. “It was extremely challenging,” she says. “I usually went in the bushes in the morning and evening. The rest of the day, I had to control myself. In the bush, I didn’t have any privacy. I was always scared that someone would come by, and one day some people walked past. It was a very disturbing feeling.”
Bathing meant more humiliation. “I got up early to take a bath in the stream so no one would see me.
During my monthly bleeding time, I felt too uncomfortable to go there, so bathing everyday was not an option.
Given the squalid conditions in the camp, Roshida worried about risks to her children’s health, especially water-borne diseases. She and Noor Fatima contracted dysentery and had to be rushed to a clinic. With treatment, they gradually recovered. Roshida and her family have lived in the camp for a year now alongside 890,000 fellow Rohingya refugees. It’s unlikely that they will be going home any time soon.
The UN advises that conditions are not in place for their safe and voluntary repatriation to Myanmar. The Rohingya are refusing to return until their demands for citizenship, education and other rights are met.
For the foreseeable future, the camp is home to Roshida and her children. This young widow says she appreciates the sanitation improvements that have made life in this harsh place a little more bearable.
Just down the hill from their shelter, World Vision installed a deep-tube well and pump, a latrine and a community bathing cubicle for women and girls.
“Over the past year, I’ve seen many changes around me,” observes Roshida. “Before we had to bathe in the stream, and sometimes we had to wait for two days before we could have a bath. Having a bathing space close to our shelter now is convenient. I feel much safer. We can go for a bath anytime we want, even at night. If I want to bathe five times a day when it’s hot, I can.”
As evening approaches, Roshida takes her daughter, Noor Khalima, 6, for a bath. On the muddy path, she stops at the well to get water and lugs the heavy aluminium water jar to the bathing cubicle. Roshida and Noor Khalima can enjoy a bucket bath in safety and privacy.
Roshida is also thankful that her children can go to the community latrine alone. “My children use the latrines independently and I am not scared now to let them go by themselves. I am grateful that these amenities are close by.”
Hygiene education is an important part of World Vision’s work with families in the camps.
Roshida and her children are one of 44,614 families who received a hygiene kit from World Vision, along with training on good hygiene practices.
"World Vision gave us many things to keep ourselves and our home clean,” says Roshinda, sweeping sand out the door of the shelter before washing the lunch dishes. “We got soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as a water jar and a bucket.”
Each morning, two of Roshinda’s five children, 6-year-old Noorkalmia and 4-year-old Noorfatima attend World Vision’s child-friendly space, where they can play and learn in a safe, fun environment. Daily activities include hygiene lessons.
“My children share things they learn in class,” says Roshinda. “They tell me, ‘Mommy, always place the drinking glasses upside down so the water drains out and they dry quickly. Only pour water into dry glasses. Always cover the food or we will fall sick.’
In Myanmar, I didn't know about these things. We didn’t get information about hygiene. I used to leave food uncovered, but now I understand why that’s not good. It gives me joy to see my children learn these new things. We can protect ourselves better if we have knowledge.”
As she weaves her life back together again, Roshida’s priority remains providing a safe environment for her children so they have a chance of having a healthy, productive life.
“I miss my husband, but I’m learning to do things without him.
I am the only caretaker left for our children,” she says. “Having facilities close by has really helped me care for them better.
Now I pay more attention to their health, and I understand how good hygiene is connected to it.”
World Vision WASH Interventions
- World Vision has provided 4,495 WASH facilities (83 deep-tube wells, 1,544 latrines, 625 waste bins, 1,722 hand washing points, 521 gender-sensitive bathing cubicles and two faecal sludge management units) in 10 camps.
- More than 154,000 people have been reached with clean water and sanitation facilities.
- 35,800 adolescent girls and women received dignity kits, including hygiene and sanitary items.
- 832 children participated in awareness sessions on personal hygiene.