Oxfam in Asia - Rohingya refugee camp

Photo credit: Dorothy Sang/Oxfam

Trust comes first: Strengthening COVID-19 Prevention Mechanism in Rohingya Camps

Since the inception of the humanitarian response in September 2017, Oxfam has placed dedicated efforts in building relationship with the Rohingya refugee community with a special focus on decision makers in the community such as traditional leaders, Majhi, Imam, etc. It is important as general population listen and respect their advice, and subsequently they play an important role in developing community action plan for proper hygiene management to overcome public health risks in the camps. Over a period of time, Community-based Volunteers (CBVs) have played an important role in strengthening Oxfam’s trusted relationship with refugees. As CBVs are part of the community and aware of their own cultural and religious norms and values, they can approach the refugees with comfort, trust and vice versa.

COVID-19 has now posed serious challenges for all actors to operate in the camps. Aid agencies are only allowed to run essential services; and as a part of the government’s directive, Oxfam is running WASH services in a number of Rohingya camps. It is a challenging task for Oxfam as only handful of team members can access to the camps because of strict regulatory framework that are in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Over the last three weeks, we are providing essential emergency services successfully, and it’s been possible because of Oxfam’s trusted relationship with the community.

In this complex context CBVs and community in general have taken the leadership in the functioning of WASH services; and our front-line warriors have taken up the role of facilitators. For example, Majhis are now monitoring the functionality of wash facilities and solid waste management at the block level. Imams are sensitising the community to practice hand washing with soap, maintaining cleanliness of sanitation facilities, maintaining social distancing in public places, etc. Traditional leaders and Imams are encouraging community to practise their religious activities at home considering the COVID-19 context.  It is amazing to see the leadership of the community in this challenging time.

The trusted relationship with community has also increased moral responsibility of Oxfam to ensure transfer of authentic information. Whenever they see Oxfam warriors in the camp, community leaders approach to them for advice and authentic information on a number of issues. Experiencing Oxfam as a trusted source of information demonstrates the importance of maintaining functional and empowering relationship with the community.