This August marks six years since hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people, a Muslim minority originating primarily from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, crossed the border by foot into Bangladesh to save their lives and seek protection from extensive attacks on them.
This large-scale and rapid influx also affected close to 550,000 Bangladeshi people in the country's southern region - known as Cox's Bazar - in the communities hosting the Rohingya. The host communities have since then been sharing their lands, water, and natural resources with the Rohingya people, which is causing some of the local residents to struggle financially.
To address the gaps in access to resources and support and to create more coherence, DRC provides skill-building training support to the host communities in Cox’s Bazar.
DRC spoke to Sonia Dhar a year and a half ago, in early 2022, and portrayed her in the publication ‘Investing in resilience’ as part of efforts to demonstrate the impact of Economic Recovery projects among communities hosting refugees. Sonia Dhar was born and raised in Cox’s Bazar, and for years she has looked for ways to become economically independent and self-sufficient, to be able to better provide for her family.
Sonia Dhar is one of the women who have benefitted from the Economic Recovery trainings. She is from the host community and has seen her life greatly improve since she got enrolled in these activities. Sonia Dhar often used to worry about the limited income of her family, not least as she and her husband have three children - two healthy sons but also a daughter who has special needs due to mental and physical disabilities.
Their daughter needs medicines that are expensive for the family whose income has been primarily from what Sonia Dhar’s husband could bring home from working as a street vendor. This was far from enough to buy food, medicine, and cover education and other basic costs for the family.
A new way of living
In mid-2021, Sonia Dhar was provided an opportunity to participate in craft-making training offered by DRC in Cox’s Bazar to empower refugees and their hosts with new income-generating skills and opportunities.
This summer, DRC revisited her home in rural Cox’s Bazar to follow-up on how the training assisted her to start up a new business and to learn how she is doing now, two years on. Sonia Dhar says that she now earns the equivalent of 100 USD every month by making and selling bamboo crafts.
"Now, I can pay for school education fees for my children, and I do not need to worry the same way for the costs of the medicines for my daughter."
Sonia Dhar took her business even further. She joined with eight other women to start up a new restaurant business and is participating in another training by DRC to learn about entrepreneurship and small restaurant management.
The idea is to grow vegetables from their own garden and sustain the running of the restaurant based on their own produce. Even if they need to get any food from the restaurant, they will never take it for free, they tell, but they will buy it, Sonia Dhar explains:
"We are learning about management, hygiene, behaviour, and secrets of creating success in restaurant business. Initially our plan was to prepare breakfast, evening snacks, lunch, and dinner. We are planning now to promote our food to the organisations and offices in our area to take catering orders, and if we can do well then, we will expand our business even more."
Supporting self-sufficiency among refugees and their hosts
"It is critical to invest as a whole in making the communities in Cox’s Bazar more self-sufficient and resilient to shocks," says Sumitra Mukherjee, DRC Country Director for Bangladesh and Operations Director for Asia:
"This is important both when it comes to making refugees able to better cope with their displacement in the past six years - and for some even longer as they have lived as refugees since generations from the first displacements in 1991 - but also and not least to make sure that the role of the host communities is acknowledged, and that they too are provided with opportunities to prosper and become more resilient."
Shilpi Barua, another Bangladeshi woman from the village, who also participate in the most recent training says:
"We are working closely together around our plans and ambitions because we believe in unity and solidarity - and trainings like these make us optimistic about the future."
A male participant of the same training, Uttam Barua, endorses the role and power of the local women:
"The women are taking the lead which is good for our family. Previously it was only men who had responsibility to earn money, but the way women are going ahead – it is a great example for other villages as well. If they earn a living, then the families would be able to pay for education and other necessaries as well."