How a daycentre for children buoys up adults, too, in Bangladesh

In collaboration with partners, WFP is providing a safe space for children to learn and play while freeing up their carers to work

Gemma Snowdon
Dec 31, 2019 · 5 min read
Childcare centre allows children to play and learn and their parents to work. Photo: WFP/Gemma Snowdon

The sound of children’s laughter can be heard ringing across a dam in the world’s largest refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. It emanates from a bamboo and tarpaulin construction at the top of a hill. On the hillside, men and women work side-by-side to stabilize the slopes ahead of the monsoon, which could easily wash away the hillside and the road it supports.

Today, around a quarter of the people working there are women. It wasn’t always this way.

“In the Rohingya culture, the father generally works outside to earn money and the mothers stay at home,” says Mayana, a participant in WFP’s cash-for-work-programme in the refugee camps.

Mayana and Shumshida used to spend their days at home looking after their grandchildren, now their lives have been completely changed with a new solution from WFP. Photo: WFP/Gemma Snowdon

“The mothers educate the children. They prepare their children for schools, madrasa [religious] studies, playing, and teach the basic moral lessons. If you are a father, you have to ensure the finances and the mother takes care of the family.”

In 2017 more than 745,000 Rohingya fled violence in Myanmar to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh. The majority of the people fleeing were women and children. When they were received on the other side, a new reality awaited, particularly for the women who found themselves as head of household, having to provide for their families.

Opportunities to earn

While many aid items are supplied — food, water, shelter, emergency care and other necessities — there are always the sundries that pop up; an extra jumper for the toddler when the temperature suddenly drops, a packet of biscuits to celebrate a birthday, or some medication for a sick teenager.

Opportunities to earn an income are limited in the refugee camps and 80 percent of the refugees remain dangerously dependent on humanitarian assistance. One of the few ways of earning money is through WFP’s cash-for-work schemes where people help with engineering and disaster-risk reduction projects.

‘Ever since I started bringing the children here, I don’t feel as scared anymore.’

These projects are labour-intensive but the women in the camps aren’t ones to shy away from the work. Instead, they are hampered by their responsibilities as caregivers, often having to stay home with the children and unable to join the programmes.

WFP’s Engineering and Gender teams in Cox’s Bazar recognize these barriers and, ever eager to provide more opportunities to women, work on breaking them down. The newly created daycare centre next to an interagency Site Maintenance and Engineering Project (SMEP) worksite is the outcome of the collaboration between WFP’s Engineering and Gender teams.

WFP helps complete engineering work for the SMEP to keep the camps safe, particularly during adverse weather conditions. (The project is funded by USAID, Canada, UK AID, Australian Aid and Japan, with the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR.)

“When my daughters are busy I have to look after their children so I can’t work,” explains Shumshida, a grandmother. “When they come back from work, the children go back to their parents. If my daughters stay at home, only then I can go for work.”

Knowing children are safe and happy is great relief for women working with WFP Engineering. Photo: WFP/Gemma Snowdon

Now Shumshida doesn’t need to worry and, like many other grandmothers and mothers, can drop the children in her care at the centre and work while knowing they’re safe.

“When we used to come for work leaving our kids, we used to feel scared that they might get run over by the vehicles, or drown in the ponds, or somebody might kidnap them,” says Mayana.

“Ever since I started bringing them here, I don’t feel as scared anymore. The teacher takes care of them and I can go and see them in between my work. They can also eat biscuits here, play here, and learn something from the books here.”

The children are provided WFP high energy biscuits for some extra nutrition so they can grow and learn (Photo WFP/Gemma Snowdon)

The centre has a full-time teacher, Nusrat Zakir, who plays games with the children and teaches them basic math and literacy skills. At lunchtime they are provided with WFP high-energy biscuits to keep their stomachs full and minds focused. Most of the attendees are aged under 5, however occasionally their older siblings will come along for part of the day, which also eases the women’s minds as they work.

“The women are mentally in a better place now,” says Nusrat. “Additionally, the children get to practice here whatever they are focusing on in the learning centres which means the children are improving.”

English and maths lessons at the daycentre come with a dose of humour. Photo: WFP/Gemma Snowdon

The purpose of the centre is to allow more women to engage with the cash for work opportunities and it seems to be working.

“I have told other women about this centre and that they should also consider coming here to work,” says Mayana. “Already today I have told three women to come and work here because I feel at peace and happy here.”

After the childcare centre was introduced, the number of women working on the engineering projects climbed from only 18 in October to 26 in December. This year that number is expected to increase even further as word about the centre spreads.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Bangladesh

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