“Our trip would involve meeting national and local counterparts to understand volunteering dynamics in the country” Aine Lynch, Comhlámh.
Our trip would involve meeting national and local counterparts to understand volunteering dynamics in the country, visit ongoing Action Aid projects see existing efforts that are being carried out in terms of emergency response the conditions and suitability for possibly hosting EU Aid volunteers in the future.
As this would be my first visit to South Asia, I was very much looking forward to going on a work trip to Bangladesh at the beginning of April. Eager to see as much as I could, I knew that our agenda was ambitious in what we had planned to cram into 5 short days. However, the brief length of time did not impede on the amount of people and places we managed to visit and talk to, and the rich stories and conversations that we would have along the way.
Our consortia team would spend two days in Dhaka learning about Action Aid Bangladesh’s work with disaster response and resilience projects, as well as meeting other agencies and national institutions such as the Bangladesh’s Fire Service and Civil Defence department, who working on emergency response programmes and volunteer engagement. The accounts of how they mobilised hundreds of volunteers within hours of the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 and the coordination efforts that continued days and weeks after the disaster in an effort to save as many lives as possible were truly inspiring to hear. The dedication and perseverance that goes into organising an effort of that scale is truly staggering.
Planes, ferries and automobiles
After two days in Dhaka we continued southward toward the delta where communities are hit by powerful cyclones year in, year out. Bangladesh is a country heavily dependent on the network of rivers and waterways so naturally enough we travelled overnight via Launch, which is basically an old steam ship with a night hold that was to double as our accommodation until we reached the port town of Barisal. From there we bussed it to Barguga where we boarded a very questionable vehicle ferry that left us at the other side of the river where motorbikes lay in wait to whisk us to our eventual destination, a small village outside Lalua. It was here that we were greeted by a dozen volunteer members from the Women’s Led Emergency Response group.
It wasn’t long before the initially shy women were speaking at length about the disasters that occurred in their communities, explaining how women are often the most vulnerable group when a disaster like a cyclone strikes, and how they have come together to challenge the norm by actively working alongside men and other volunteers. They see a united community as the only one to ensure that everyone is equally protected and prepared during an emergency.
This was the first of the inspiring women’s volunteer groups that we met along our journey; the second group were those that were taking part in Action Aid’s Emergency Fast Aid Psychosocial Training (EFAST). This was attended by rural women’s volunteer leaders who would not only learn about practical ways of responding to people caught up in emergencies but to provide psychosocial guidance to the often overlooked aspect of trauma that can be experienced by victims. They also studied how to respond effectively to deal with those cases of trauma or showing guidance in times of distress.
I left Bangladesh with a greater understanding of the difficulties people encounter in the face of increasing natural disasters. Although I was physically drained from the travel, I gained a new found energy as my mind had been filled with optimism by just talking to the resilient and fearless women and local volunteers tirelessly working for the betterment of their community. They truly were a remarkable bunch of women and I’m sure that if international volunteers were to work alongside local volunteers like the groups we met they would not only be very honoured, but learn a great deal and be positively challenged along the way.
Áine Lynch – Comhlámh’s Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid Project Officer reports on a recent trip to Bangladesh where she met with partners Action Aid Bangladesh, Red Cross Philippines and France Volontaires, who are working as a consortia as part of the EU Aid Initiative. The host organisation consortia for volunteering in humanitarian aid aims at preparing future European Union Aid Volunteers (EUAV) projects where humanitarian and volunteering organisations would share a common culture of how EU volunteers would fit into existing local volunteering dynamics and responses systems for disaster risk reduction.