Since early October, Medical Teams volunteers have been caring for sick, injured, and traumatized Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port in southeastern Bangladesh. The refugees, whose number now exceeds 540,000, live in squalid conditions, with limited access to latrines or hygiene supplies. The settlement is ripe for disease.

Nurse Lydia Lu is a member of the first-in response team. She writes to tell us what she’s seen on the ground as part of the relief efforts.

Even though I arrived in Cox’s Bazar in early October, it seems like I’ve been here for months.

This is my third time in Bangladesh, but it’s my first time in an emergency response setting and my first time in a refugee camp.

On arrival, I learned the ongoing crisis today is not the first time the Rohingya have been forced to migrate to Bangladesh. In the early 1990s, over 200,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and were ultimately settled into what is now called Kutupalong Refugee Camp. The new refugees to this area, who have arrived en masse since late August, have extended out into what they are calling the “Kutupolong Expansion” and farther out to the “Kutupolong Makeshift Camp”.

I had heard our team leader described this camp as the worst he’d ever seen, so I steeled myself for chaos and despair.

Refugees mill about in the Kutupolang Refugee Camp, among the fastest growing settlements in the world

Refugees mill about in the Kutupolang Refugee Camp, among the fastest growing settlements in the world. Since August, hundreds of thousands of new refugees have arrived.

Since that first day, I have been working with the rest of the team to establish a community health worker program to provide outreach on hygiene, safe water, and diarrhea prevention and management education. We equip the community health workers with hygiene supplies to give to families.

This work has involved walking into the camp, enduring the blazing-hot sun, sliding in-between the shelter-homes of the refugees, balancing on makeshift bamboo bridges, and sloshing through mud and rain.

“The people I’m meeting are incredibly resilient,” Lydia Lu.

We have tried to make sense of the labyrinth of paths etched into the hillsides, found local leaders, and been introduced to volunteers from these groups of people who now find themselves living together. We have been inside homes, sat where people eat and sleep and congregate. We have walked through the “neighborhoods” of our 19 Rohingya community health workers.

The experience inside the camp presents a rawness, realness, and starkness that I didn’t realize from an outside view. There is still a disarming quiet, a coping with this new life, that I see around me. The people I’m meeting are incredibly resilient.

I don’t sense hopelessness from the community health workers, who are refugees themselves. They are so eager, so industrious. They are ready to do whatever they can to improve their lives and the lives of their neighbors. Honestly, I don’t know how much they will be able to sustain this energy, but I hope they can. And I hope we can continue to keep up with them.

Help Lydia and her team support these community health workers. These are refugees who despite losing everything work to make better, healthier lives for themselves and their neighbors. To learn more and to donate to our Rohingya refugee response, click here.

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