No cot, no nappies, no water, no food
After ten wonderful, crazy, amazing months on maternity leave, yesterday it was time for me to return to work to Oxfam Cymru where I work as a Media and Communications Officer. Following hours of deleting emails (I had over 11,000 waiting for me!) and drinking coffee, I started reading Oxfam’s latest press releases and within half a minute I was still and stone cold in my chair.
Have you heard about the crisis of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh? If you’re anything like me it’s likely you will have heard snippets here and there while making dinner or changing a nappy, but you won’t have understood the full scale and sheer horror of the situation.
Over 600,000 people have now fled Myanmar and are struggling to survive in crowded camps in Bangladesh. Over 120,000 of these are pregnant women and mothers with new babies, and 50 infants are born daily into the dire conditions at the camps where there is not enough food, shelter or clean water.
For a lot of women, giving birth is a difficult experience; it was for me, even in a modern hospital surrounded by amazing doctors and nurses and with my loved ones at my side. Can you imagine giving birth in a refugee camp? Without any privacy, any medical care, or any comfort whatsoever?
During those first few days after my son was born there was always something to worry about – is he having enough milk? Is he warm enough? When can we go home? I wonder what I would worry about had he been born in a refugee camp, without a bed, without a doctor, without safe shelter, without any privacy, without a cot, without any clean clothes, without a warm blanket, without any wipes or nappies, without any food, without any clean water. I feel sick just thinking about it.
* Photograph: Laila with Abdul and Jida. Copyright: Bekki Frost/Oxfam/Al Jazeera
Laila* is 18-years-old, she is five months pregnant and has two children, 18-month-old Abdul*, and two-year-old Jida*. Laila arrived in Bangladesh in late September. She spent a night on an island, taking shelter in a local school, before traveling by boat to mainland Bangladesh, her fare paid by locals helping the refugees.
Laila received food and a piece of tarpaulin before being transported to Balukhali camp, where she and her children arrived after dark. Laila’s husband went missing as she fled. “I don’t know if he is dead or alive,” says Laila. “That makes me heartbroken.”
*Photograph: Abdul sleeps in the camp at Balukhali. Copyright: Bekki Frost/Oxfam/ Al Jazeera
“I have two small children and I am five months pregnant. The children are sick. I worry most about their food. My worry is, I can’t feed them, can’t give them medicine.”
*Photograph Copyright: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam/Al Jazeera
To get water, Laila digs a hole in the ground. “It is dirty. People go to the toilet here, but we can’t live without water, so we’re drinking it. It is very dirty water. It smells as we go outside.”
If you would like to make a donation to help some of the mothers, babies and children in Bangladesh, you can do so by visiting Oxfam or call 0300 200 1300. You can also donate at any Oxfam shop, or you can send a cheque made out to Oxfam to Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, OX4 2JY. Even if it’s just £5, that money will make a big different to a struggling new mum and her newborn baby.
*names have been changed
By Casia Wiliam, Oxfam Cymru