On 4 May last year, Jacob Sarker started his new role as Tearfund’s Country Representative for Bangladesh. On 30 May, Cyclone Mora hit the south of the country. On 12 June, monsoon rain triggered landslides and floods in three districts in the south-east. Later in June, more rains caused devastation and a further eight northern districts were flooded.
The conditions triggered mudslides in southeastern Bangladesh. The rain intensified over the next month – across India, Nepal and Pakistan as well as Bangladesh. By 2 September an estimated 45 million people were affected. During the worst days of the floods, more than one-third of Bangladesh was under water.
Meanwhile, a different flood was coming to the south of Bangladesh – a surge of people. Myanmar families from the Rohingya ethnic group were forcibly displaced by violence in Northern Rakhine State. By October, an estimated 700,000 people fled to escape appalling atrocities, including having family members killed before their eyes.
Exhausted people faced perilous journeys. Most arrived in Cox’s Bazar, a town on the south east coast, desperately needing food, water, sanitation, shelter, medical and trauma care. This was the background to Jacob’s first six months at Tearfund. ‘I always do a lot of hard work, but last year was harder,’ he says.
'If you follow Jesus, he will provide for you'
But that’s not to say there hasn’t been a huge cost to Jacob. ‘One day in September, while visiting the displaced Myanmar nationals in the camps, I spoke on the phone to Steve Collins [Tearfund’s head of the Asia region]. Steve suggested I take a break. I told him I would rest when I knew that we were responding to the Rohingya people. It was painful to see their situation. I was in tears.’
It was a huge privilege for me to visit Bangladesh in February, where I saw the results of your support. ‘When we went back to the camps it was such a relief,’ says Jacob. ‘I felt so much peace in my heart to see the progress. I still saw a lot of pain but I was thankful to know that we were able to help.’
Tearfund now has two partners responding in the Kutupalong-Balukhali camp: Coastal Association for Social Transformation (COAST) Trust and Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB). But when the Rohingya crisis began to unfold, we had no established partners in that area of Bangladesh
‘I did not realise the crisis was going to be that big,’ says Jacob. ‘I could have decided that because we have no partners we would not respond. But I never thought like that because I was depending on the Lord. If you follow Jesus, he will provide for you.’
Bringing childhood back
At the camp, Jacob and I met with a young mother, Anuwara, who was forcibly displaced from Myanmar. She now lives in a flimsy bamboo-and-plastic-sheeted shack with her two young daughters, Mumtaz, aged four, and Razia, aged three. People are desperate to tell their stories. Before I even ask a question, Anuwara tells me, ‘My husband was killed. He went to collect food and he was shot. So we just fled that day.’
Anuwara is sitting in front of me cradling her two children – their faces have a look somewhere between vacant and traumatised. Not an expression I can connect with my own two lively and happy children back home. ‘The children are used to people being killed,’ Anuwara continues. ‘When people ask where their father is they say he’s been shot.’ So many of their friends have experienced the same – it is normal for them.
But, thanks to your support, Tearfund’s partner CCDB are building child-friendly spaces – protection facilities for children – so that mothers like Anuwara can take their children to rest and enjoy being children again.
My encounter with Anuwara helped me understand why Jacob was so desperate to help these forcibly displaced families. And it gave me an insight into the huge pressures his team have been, and continue to be, under. ‘The biggest strength of Tearfund is the prayer support from around the world – the support staff in the UK, and all those praying for us around the world. It has a very big impact. I felt it.’
- Lift up all those who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the floods. Pray for God’s comfort, protection and provision.
- Pray for the Rohingya people. Pray that humanitarian organisations like Tearfund will be able to continue to support them, and pray for a political solution to the crisis.
- Pray for God to strengthen Jacob and his team as they work in these physically and emotionally challenging conditions.
This is an extract from an article in the May 2018 edition of Tear Times.