This summer, I’ve been interning with Save the Children and the Interagency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG), working on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Emergencies (ASRHiE). Part of my position there was working on research to finalize the Training of Trainers (TOT) package on ASRHiE, which is delivered to people working in Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) in Emergencies. I was very lucky to be offered the opportunity to finish out my internship by going to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to provide logistical support for a TOT lead by some of IAWG’s new trainers.

It was a bit tricky to arrange, since it meant missing about a week and a half of school, but I was very lucky to have supportive professors and supervisors. Thanks to them and to my amazing supervisor at Save the Children/ IAWG (and to some very quick processing by the Embassy of Bangladesh in DC), I got my visa and flight arranged, and arrived in Bangladesh on August 22nd. I spent the night in Dhaka, and the next morning caught my flight to Cox’s Bazar. On my way to the airport, I shared a van with a really lovely couple who had worked for Save the Children in more than 10 countries. We wound up going to dinner together later that week, and I heard all of their fascinating stories from their travels.

I had one or two days in Cox’s Bazar to explore, and was surprised by just how beautiful the town was. The beach is the longest one in the world (a fact that the country is very proud of), and some areas of it are very empty and beautiful. I took tons of pictures on my walks, and it was great to get a chance to see some of the less touristy areas of the town.

The traditional fishing boats that people in Cox’s Bazar use.

The traditional fishing boats that people in Cox’s Bazar use.

The main coordinator for the training works for UNFPA, so I spent Saturday at their office prepping all of the materials for the training. It was so interesting to get a sense of what the offices looked like, and to hear from the trainer on her experiences working with UNFPA.

Then the training began! It was only two days, but those two days were packed. It took some time to work out the kinks, but I think that the participants got a lot out of it. We had every person we invited attend, representing over 14 organizations working in Bangladesh. I met so many interesting people, and we got a lot of great feedback to continue to improve upon the training in the future. It was fantastic to get a chance to see the training in action after researching so many of the topics that were covered.

All of the participants and trainers

All of the participants and trainers.

Unfortunately, due to rallies in the refugee camps in Teknaf over repatriation, we had to postpone our scheduled field day until after I left. However, I was very lucky to have a colleague there willing to take me to see the camps in Ukhiya the following day so that I could see the health post and primary health care center there and get a chance to try out one of the tools we discussed in the training. It was interesting to see all of the steps required to visit the camps: I had to visit the government office to receive a camp pass (with a specific date and camp number to visit) and attend several briefings around security, child safeguarding, and media/communications. These briefings helped to ensure I understood the do’s and don’ts while in the camps, and to protect the refugees that live there. I wasn’t ever sure it would happen until finally, it was Wednesday and we were getting into the van to head down the coast!

It took about an hour and a half on winding side roads, as well as passing through several police checkpoints to get to the camps in Ukhiya. We first visited the Save the Children primary health care center (PHCC), which lies right at the entrance of the camps so that it is able to serve both the host and refugee communities. I got a tour from a staff member there, and had the chance to see all of the buildings within the PHCC. Everything was very clean and organized, and they are able to provide fairly comprehensive services there. The manager was one of the people who had attended the training, so she and I sat down to chat for about 45 minutes, going through items on the Adolescent-Friendly Facility Checklist. They’re doing really fantastic work there, and it was wonderful to see all of the steps they are taking to serve more vulnerable populations.

The family planning room at the primary health care center.

The family planning room at the primary health care center.

After that, we headed over to the health post in the closest camp. It was a quick drive, and then we had to get out and walk as the van couldn’t get the rest of the way. The camps were built in a flood-prone area with many hills and valleys, so steps and paths have been built into the sides of these hills as the camps expanded. We walked along the dirt path, with little shops, makeshift shelters, and learning centers on each side. All around us, kids were running and playing, men were chatting over tea, and people were carrying water and food back to their shelters. I was surprised to find that, in many ways, it felt like a more crowded village.

The health post was under construction, so I spoke with the manager (another person who had attended the training) in the temporary space that they are using, and again went through the Adolescent-Friendly Facility Checklist. They are serving so many people daily, each day speeds by and the midwives and family planning assistants have little time for a break. It was great to hear about their experiences at the health post, and to know that they are able to provide family planning assistance so many people.

The new health post that they are finishing work on.

The new health post that they are finishing work on.

After lunch back at the PHCC, we started our long trek back to Cox’s Bazar. The following day I did a bit more exploring, and met with the SRH Manager for Save the Children to talk through my feedback from the time at the PHCC and health post. She’s spent several years working in conflict zones, so I also took the chance to speak with her about her experiences. Between talking with her, the national staff at the Save the Children office, and the couple that I met on my way over, I got a much better sense of what working in humanitarian settings can look like.

Even though I only had a bit over a week in Bangladesh, I learned a ton between the training, meeting all of the amazing people working in these responses, and seeing the PHCC and health post in person. I am so grateful for the opportunity to put my learning into practice, and I hope to continue working with IAWG as I move into my final year at UNC’s Gillings Schools of Global Public Health.

– Erin