From the diary of Maheshvara Pacheco, who visited a Bangladeshi refugee camp hoping to learn more about what motivates AMURT volunteers.
On the front lines of human despair, when the tumultuous turns of an unforgiving world seem to declare all hope is lost, a multitude of men and women step forward to serve the downtrodden. Humanitarian workers play an essential role. I’m curious: what drives them to toil in these disaster situations?
Today I was to report on the vaccination program carried out by AMURT volunteers. At 9am we left Cox’s Bazar, for the two-hour drive south to the Kutupalong refugee camp through the Bangladeshi countryside.
Through the vehicle window, I admired waves emerging from the sea and spreading along the seashore. I reflected on how the power of the incoming wave allows the preceding one to merge back into the ocean; a perpetual motion of giving and receiving. With these thoughts drifting through my mind, I dozed off for a while.
When we arrived, I accompanied my fellow workers on their journey, winding through the refugee settlement on foot. We visited several vaccination camps they help staff; small bamboo structures, marked with a yellow flag.
A collaborative effort, these vaccination centers have been set up in partnership with other NGOs and the Bangladeshi government. Our goal? Preventing the spread of diphtheria and other common diseases in the area. By early February, over 4800 suspected cases of diphtheria had been reported and 37 lives lost to the infection.
We prioritize children, who are the most vulnerable. Many more children than adults inhabit these crowded camps: some of them look anxious and fearful as they watch a friend being administered a vaccine; others smile with relief after having passed through the ordeal. Each lovingly cared for in order to give them a better chance in life. A small act, but one of great significance. As a result, the child will not have to suffer or run the risk of dying, from tetanus or diphtheria.
The first round of the diphtheria campaign ran over one month. Eighteen AMURT volunteers assisted teams vaccinating 57,665 children. Increased funding has enabled our staff to be doubled, with the expectation that at least 75,000 children will be served in February. The government’s overall target is 400,000 children from both the refugee and local host community.
There lies hope
Upon meeting some of the volunteers, I could not stop wondering what had brought them there. We were in the epicenter of one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, and they seemed ready to risk their health and safety just to be of some assistance. Unashamedly curious, I enquired further.
They were all young Bangladeshis, mostly students. With their limited English, they conveyed how they were aghast at what was happening just outside their towns. One young man explained his strong desire to serve the refugees, with whom he shares a religion and culture; the others agreed and smiled. He said that when he heard our call for volunteers to conduct a massive vaccination, he readily signed up.
Despite the difficulties in verbal communication, I could clearly understand the sheer purposefulness and determination expressed in their eyes.
A few days earlier I had met a local health inspector. “They are very sincere and dedicated”, he had said about our volunteers. What a joy it is to work with them, I thought.
Throughout our day, passing through the myriad of feeble bamboo huts, we were presented with flesh and blood images of human suffering wherever we looked. Juxtaposed against this miserable backdrop of anguish and uncertainty, the obvious joy our young volunteers felt at having an opportunity to serve others seemed a paradox to me.
However, I was reminded of other examples of the immense pleasure derived from dedicating oneself to the welfare of others: as seen in the love a mother experiences when she nurses her child, or the deep affection felt when we help a friend in dire need.
A certain freedom is aroused when the sheer conviction of our actions brings a clarity of mind that sees any dissonant sensitivities fade away.
Rabindranath Tagore said it best: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
Our humanitarian aid efforts are still going on. If you would like to learn more, please visit here.
Below is a video made about the work we do in Bangladesh to the soundtrack of Matthew West: Do something. Enjoy his pertinent lyrics!
Since November 2017 AMURT and its local partner reached 160,000 refugee children in Bangladesh with lifesaving vaccines.
If you would like to donate towards our vaccination campaign, please click here.