Dear Humanitarian, Are You Prepared For The Rains?

Rain can have both a physical and emotional impact on a humanitarian worker. As a team, it is important to know what this impact looks like and how you can think and plan ahead.

In August 2017, violence erupted in Rakhine State in Myanmar, targeting the Rohingya people, a stateless Muslim minority. Almost a million  people fled to Bangladesh and are now living in temporary shelters around Cox’s Bazar.

The initial emergency response of building, supporting and surpling has passed and work moves into the next stage. Clinics have been built, child friendly spaces created and basic services are being supplied. It’s inspiring to be amongst people whose ability to make things happen and save lives is so physically evident.  Despite the pain and trauma that is around this crisis, with every new pipe laid, road planned, shelter fixed, medical treatment and child empowered, I see hope, love and the innate human power of kindness.

The pace of work here for the majority of humanitarians is still fast with the inevitable long days, hundreds of emails, phone calls at all hours and the unrelenting knowledge that the work will never be finished. Despite this, I get the sense that things are settling. People are spending a little longer over their morning coffee in the hotels around Cox’s Bazar, social events like pub quizzes, friday football and early morning surfing, are becoming more regular. To me, this shows the desire to make life sustainable here; the need for self care and for ways to switch off from the challenging work. It is the calm before the storm.

There is an underlying tension and  fear in people’s hearts here as the impending cyclone and monsoon seasons threaten to flood the camps. The longer coffees in the morning give people time to reflect and talk about when the rains come and what task they will do today to prepare and prevent against the impact.  What will happen when the rains fall and the wind howls? How will the crumbing soil hold? For those on the ground here there is a desperate push to act fast, plan, prepare and move people as quickly as possible. But eventually all human power will be succumb to the power of the elements. The weather will take control and the humanitarians and the world will have to wait until it passes before going back in.

For those on short contracts here who have taken a few weeks  off from their regular jobs to come and support the work the dread of going home is clear. They fear watching the events take place on the news from their  comfortable homes knowing that they can do nothing about it. For those still here, they can do as much as is humanly possible to prepare the camp and the people for the rains.  But how can we prepare ourselves? Is it about just acknowledging the feelings? Accepting that even if we do everything in our power we still won’t be able to beat it? Is it about talking to colleagues or friends and family about it, is it about the distraction involved with having those extra drinks or having a laugh as a way to escape? I don’t think there is one answer, but I do know that we have to be prepared both physically and emotionally.  So let me ask you today to take a moment and ask yourself: Am I prepared for the rains?

What happens if my team and I are not prepared for the emotional impact of the rain?

You and your team may be impacted by:

  • Vicarious trauma
  • High burnout rates
  • High staff turnover
  • Staff leaving suddenly
  • Good staff not being able to return to their roles
  • Low morale – staff feeling that they have achieved nothing
  • Higher levels of internal conflict
  • Stress levels increased
  • Impact on work and support with stakeholders

The impact can be decreased if you and your team give some time to think and plan ahead of the emergency phase to come. Here are some suggestions:

    Take time to check in with your staff – What is your workload like? Do you need any practical support to prepare yourself and your projects before the rains? Do you have any fears about the emotional impact of the rains? Have you ever been in a situation similar to this – what was useful and what wasn’t? How can I or the organisation support you?
    Put in extra social and team events that allow people to relax, reconnect and refresh. Encourage conversations  with others teammates and people going through similar reactions. Organise a group space to meet if the team is stuck on the ground during the rain – to avoid loneliness and isolation.  Set up a formal peer support network.
    What happens if your staff burn out? Does someone in the organisation have the expertise to support them or do you need to source a counsellor externally ? Do you have the contact and referral information to allow you to respond quickly ?

Thrive services available in Bangladesh

Psychosocial support: Counselling for individuals, couples and groups; Trauma Counselling; Psychological First Aid

Training: We offer training courses in Stress Management, Vicarious Trauma, Resilience building, Psychological First Aid, Working with Traumatized Populations, Peer Support and more.

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