From Adversity to Advocacy

Anwora Begum travelled across the Naf River in a boat in the middle of the night in 2017 to Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, and is now residing in Camp 26, along with hundreds of other Rohingyas.  Her family found safety here, however adjusting to camp life proved to be an exhausting process. Moved by others' sufferings and of her own, she wished to make a positive impact in her community. She got the chance when she was elected for the camp committee.

In her new role, her leadership qualities brought her at the forefront of driving change, as one day in a community meeting people were discussing about the unhygienic condition of the camps and the need for maintain cleanliness. Anwora herself was bothered by heaps of garbage and open defecation in her block. Despite numerous efforts, the area always stayed unhygienic. She envisioned a cleaner environment for her children and collaborated with the community to address the issue.

As fate would have it, an outbreak of scabies swept through the camp, affecting not only its residents but also Anwora’s children during this time. Seeking medical treatment, she received more than just prescriptions. The doctor emphasised on the critical role of maintaining cleanliness propel, inspiring Anwora to be more engaged in the responsibility.

Despite the initial scepticism voiced by her neighbours—who believed that cleaning was the responsibility of humanitarian workers—Anwora convinced them it was a shared responsibility. ‘Whether I'm clean or not doesn't matter; if my surroundings are unclean, everyone will eventually get sick,’ Anwara said to all.

With the backing of ActionAid Bangladesh’s Site Management team, Anwora successfully persuaded the community to engage in cleanliness. With the help of camp committee members, block leaders, site management volunteers, and members of the community, they coordinated a cleanup effort. The WASH team of Camp 26 also chipped in by providing essential gear such as gumboots, gloves, masks, and brooms. The residents then embarked on cleaning their yards, drains, and pathways, witnessing the dramatical transformation of their block. 

Seeing the success of this community-based initiative, the site management team encouraged them to carry out more such initiatives in addition to supporting them with resources. Anwora took over and formed a team that continued to clean the block on a regular basis. Not only did the residents appreciate this self-initiated cleaning push, but the site management team of ActionAid Bangladesh recognised the potential and decided to replicate the idea in neighbouring camp blocks.

Seeing the positive changes, a representative from WASH team stated, ‘Communities are spearheading their own efforts to maintain cleanliness. It was unthinkable before but now they are now self-motivated to clean the pathways, yards, and drains. It’s amazing to see the change’.

The participatory cleaning campaign model, now a flare of inspiration, garnered active engagement from residents. The benefits of this initiative were evident, including a shift towards proper garbage disposal, a decline in open defecation among children, and a heightened sense of ownership among community members who took pride in maintaining cleanliness within their own yards.

In essence, Anwora's journey from adversity to advocacy didn't just make her camp better but also inspired everyone to practice cleanliness and take pride in community work.