by Dr Kate Beacher, Clinical Psychologist
Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh
The primary aims of DRGT2’s forward element is to conduct situational and relational reconnaissance in order to maximise the effectiveness of Team 2 operations in the coming weeks. With that in mind, today we continued to build on yesterday’s efforts.
The morning was spent liaising with various NGO’s to ascertain the level of current services available, both in the medical and mental health areas. In particular we spoke with Blanche Tax, UNHCR’s Protection Co-ordinator, who stated that there are currently no Gender-Based Violence (GBV) training or activities in place for the Rohingya Refugees.
Whilst it is encouraging that the intention and planning of such services has been acknowledged, our camp visits to date have highlighted a profound immediate need for these – which is clearly not being met. The participation of DRG in tomorrow’s Protection Sector meeting will hopefully provide further information.
“I am astounded- simply astounded- at the lack of trauma psychological services the Rohingya have received….Women who won’t come out of their tents to seek medical treatment for fear of being further harmed. Women who are pregnant by rape, are the sole survivors of their family and whose faces show disfigurement from acid burn – and who can no longer speak.”
We then travelled to Burma Para Refugee Camp to deliver a large package of medical resources to our friend, Dr Ayub. Dr Ayub is a Rohingya refugee who assisted DRG Team 1 in the provision of treatment throughout Burma Para, and who continued to provide treatment following the departure of Team 1, using the remainder of DRG’s medical resources. He stated that he will begin treatment tomorrow with the new resources.
Promisingly, MSF appeared to be building a large clinic in close proximity to DRG Team 1’s primary area of work. We spoke with the MSF construction crew who stated that they were looking to open their 3- room clinic on Wednesday 25 Oct. This is a region that could potentially be complemented by a mobile (DRG) element towards the back-end of Burma Para, in order to provide aid to refugees who are unable to travel the distance to the MSF clinic – an idea which was echoed both by Dr Ayub, and later by Iljitsj Wemerman and his medical staff from CARE.
Given the initial synergies which were evident between CARE and DRG yesterday, a second meeting had been arranged for this afternoon with a larger group of delegates. Led by Iljitsj Wemermen, we met Kamlesh Giri (Senior Technical Advisor, CARE USA) and Dr Ahsanul Islam, the co-ordinator of Health Systems for CARE Bangladesh. The meeting allowed us to collaboratively develop ideas about formal and informal support, as well as complementary service provision and intelligence sharing. CARE were particularly responsive to the idea of DRG as a roving and mobile clinic which could refer and collaborate with their more permanent (planned) facilities. They have a strong focus in GBV counselling, sexual reproductive health (SRH) services and expressed additional interest in the psychological services that we provide.
Our final port of call in the evening was a meal shared with our Rotarian supporters, Mr Babu and Mr Sujan, which allowed us to consolidate our official legitimacy in the eyes of the Bangladeshi government. And there ended the business part of the day.
But here’s the thing. I sit here typing this as a psychologist, and I am astounded- simply astounded- at the lack of trauma psychological services the Rohingya have received. The physical wounds tend to be more evident, but it is not until the behaviour of the refugees is considered that the full extent of the psychological trauma is illustrated.
Women who won’t come out of their tents to seek medical treatment for fear of being further harmed. Women who are pregnant by rape, are the sole survivors of their family and whose faces show disfigurement from acid burn – and who can no longer speak. Children whose emotional trauma and dissociative state is disrupted by the provision of kindness throughout medical treatment, causing significant emotional release. And yet, there is nothing, nothing in place to treat their psychological wounds.
DRG’s framework focuses on immediate aid. We do not have the capability for longer-term treatment – medically or psychologically. However, we do have the ability to provide psychological first aid, to support GBV counselling, to assist women to safely receive basic levels of care. We can, and we will, provide the immediate psychological assistance to any refugee, regardless of age, gender or situation; and where possible, link them in with additional services for longer term treatment and monitoring.
We can not do everything, but we can do something.
If you would like to help our mission, you can donate to the Backpacker Medics cause here: https://chuffed.org/project/bpmdrg-bangladesh#/supporters