“This space is the only pleasure and comfort for me. I feel that I’m not abandoned, excluded, neglected or rejected. There is still a small space allocated for me in this large camp,” said a 62-year-old woman from Myanmar who regularly visits the age-friendly space.
We have set up our age-friendly space in the Balukhali-2 camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It provides older people who fled Myanmar with a safe environment to access services and support, and to socialise with others.
Resource Integration Center (RIC), jointly with HelpAge International, established the space late last year. It includes a waiting room, recreation area and a corner for health check-ups. We also help older people access emergency services if they need them and provide specialist referrals.
For those who are traumatised by their experiences in Myanmar before fleeing to Bangladesh, we offer counselling and psychosocial support. And we have a clean toilet and hand-washing facilities that help to improve the day-to-day hygiene.
We make sure the age-friendly space accommodates everyone’s faith and cultural needs. Some people require an area to pray, while others have special food restrictions, so we make sure everyone feels welcome.
“I feel better when I come here because there are people who care about my needs and instill me with hope,” said Sajeda, a 68-year-old woman who regularly visits the space.
RIC has been working with older people for decades, and we strongly believe older people can participate, even during difficult situations. So, when we started working in the camps, we formed a management committee of 15 older people who meet twice a month to ensure the services we provide are high quality and the needs of older people are met.
Eyecare and preparing for the winter
In December last year, we held an eyecare camp in addition to our day-to-day activities. Six ophthalmologists and three medical professionals from Cox’s Bazar’s Baitush Sharaf Hospital, a non-profit eyecare services provider, came to our space to provide support.
We gave nearly 500 older people check-ups to diagnose eye problems and prescribe the relevant medicine. We performed surgery on 56 people who had cataracts and gave out 155 pairs of glasses.
Later in December, as the winter set in across Cox’s Bazar, RIC, together with Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, organised a clothes distribution. We gave out warm sweatshirts and shawls to 1,800 older people to help keep them warm in the winter months.
Through these activities in the age-friendly space, we showed the solidarity that the people of Bangladesh have with those who have fled Myanmar. They want to help these people and have donated both their time and money. The eye specialists at Baitush Sharaf Hospital were quick to respond and help these people in need, and their work has helped hundreds of older people from Myanmar improve their vision, which can transform their day-to-day lives.
“What we are currently doing is just a start. We want to transform the age-friendly space into a hub of solidarity across generations where all age groups can come together to support older people. And we want to bring humanitarian agencies together to join us in responding to the needs of all older people,” said RIC Executive director Abul Haseeb Khan.
Find out more about our response in Bangladesh helping people who have fled Myanmar and about the work of our network member RIC.