When the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp, the Bangladeshi government announced that education was a non-essential activity, closed all education institutions, and instituted a countrywide lockdown. Hosting teacher trainings remotely became a challenge for the workers of FCA and DCA. Internet connectivity and access to IT tools are limited in areas of Bangladesh. Because of the pandemic, teachers were dealing with the extra stress of living under a lockdown, in an already heavily crisis-affected environment.
DCA and FCA education team members wanted to transform what they had learned during the pandemic into a package that could be used by any other partner at Cox’s Bazaar and in different local contexts in the world.
“The focus is as much on the participants as it is on the content,” FCA’s Education Technical Adviser Andreia Soares says. She has been seconded to the Cox’s Bazaar team of Dan Church Aid since March. “When we developed the package we paid attention to the participants’ relevant learning as well as well-being, and the process was very interactive,” she says.
Input and feedback from participants was constantly gathered and the activities were developed based on their experiences. Also volunteers from the Teachers Without Borders network helped with moving the training to digital channels. The training was delivered using both Zoom and WhatsApp offering both flexibility and social contact.
Women and girls learn to read and acquire new skills in the FCA/DCA project in two refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“I feel secure to work in the safe space for women and girls. I enjoy coming to this place and sharing with others,” says a refugee woman volunteering as a teacher. In Myanmar, she taught the national language Burmese and sewing.
Almost a million ethnic Rohingya now live in a cluster of camps in the Cox’s Bazar area in Bangladesh. They have fled Myanmar because of violence described in the recent UN report as mass murder and gang rape. According to the report, the intent of violence was genocide.
Most of the refugees are women and children. The situation of orphans and young women and girls in particular is very difficult.
”My dream is that the women and girls I teach could start to teach others. And that they could make a living for themselves.”
Support after violence
Education and livelihood opportunities are in short supply at the biggest refugee camp in the world. Especially education for young people is sorely needed.
A joint project by Finn Church Aid and DanChurchAid provides psychosocial support and education for women and adolescent girls who have experienced gender-based violence.
”Since the programme started we have reached 169 women and girls with basic literacy & numeracy lessons as well as 179 women and girls with life skills sessions, focusing on topics such as hygiene, nutrition and family planning. In addition, 765 women and girls have received psychosocial support, and our team has visited 1,050 families to tell them about the facilities and services aimed at women and girls,” says FCA education expert Petra Weissengruber who works at Cox’s Bazar.
Information sessions on hygiene, child marriage and disaster risk reduction have reached almost 1,400 women and girls. A questionnaire carried out at the beginning of the project revealed that there is a great deal of need and interest towards education. Also, there is a high number of women and girls that already have tailoring skills and reported that they would enjoy passing their skills on to other female refugees. The opportunity to do this has also been provided, and teaching has begun.
Conditions at the camp are harsh. People live in tiny shacks right next to one another.
”Fortunately, the monsoon rains have not been as hard this year as we feared. On the days it rains a lot, the education team can’t always make it to the camps. The rain that turns the roads at the refugee camps into mud obviously makes it difficult for the women and girls to reach the education facilities as well,” says Weissengruber.
Text: Ulla Kärki / Finn Church Aid
Photo: Tine Sletting Jakobsen / Dan Church Aid