inding peace inside Bangladesh’s refugee camps

Finding peace inside Bangladesh’s refugee camps

Publication info

Nusrat Daud Pritha

Hot, arid, humid, muddy — the situation in Bangladesh camps, where hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar have settled in the last year, changes drastically in a day. Across the broad stretches of land marked by blue, orange, and white makeshift shelters, most of the men and children are outside to escape the high temperatures inside their shelters. Most women and girls, however, feel obligated to stay indoors due to cultural norms. Instead, their refuge are the large green shelters surrounded by green fencing. Known as Shantir Ghor, or Houses of Peace, the shelters offer women-only communal areas. 

Noor Hasina, a mother of two young daughters, is a regular visitor to the Shantir Ghor that recently opened near her home in the camp. Compared to her 17-foot-by-12-foot shelter, the Shantir Ghor is an open, cool, peaceful place. At the Shantir Ghor, women have access to counselling services, trainings and resources such as sewing machines so that they can make clothing for themselves and their families. Such a space is a novel concept for Noor Hasina and most other refugee women in the camp. Noor Hasina says that for the last 10 years, “Even for collecting water, we could not go in pairs. We could stay in groups indoors, but this was not allowed outside. We feared being attacked if we travelled in pairs or groups.”  

Noor Hasina was separated from her husband during the 16-day journey to Bangladesh — she assumes he is no longer alive. Counselling sessions at the Shantir Ghor have helped her cope with her trauma and loss. She says it has benefitted her to talk about her grief and find a way to overcome it. One of the ways she channels her grief is through sewing.  

“Life is not easy in the camps. It is hot, we worry about our safety, and we have to go to collect rations, cook and look after the children. But when I am here, sewing, I forget all my worries, all my losses. I feel happy,” she says. With the sewing machines, she makes clothes for herself, her children, and other family members. She has already made 10 pieces of clothing since May.  

Noor Hasina was married at a very young age and it has been difficult for her. But she has big dreams for her two daughters.  

“In Myanmar, women are married at a very young age, and for this they face many difficulties. I don’t want my daughters to face that. I want them to study and grow up and do some proper job before they get married.”

Noor Hasina is a regular visitor to the women-only communal area near her home in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.  Photo Credit: Nusrat Daud Pritha/CARE Bangladesh