Anwar Hossain lives right on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, in Kuakata, Bangladesh. He is a fisherman, but he doesn’t own a boat, so he works as a labourer on other people’s boats and earns very little. He has always lived hand-to-mouth and being so poor affected his self-esteem. “I always found it hard to express my opinion among others,” he says.
Anwar, 43, has two daughters and one son and they live in a ramshackle shelter on public land. It is outside the embankment and dangerously exposed to the sea. During Cyclone Sidr, Anwar and his family made it to a nearby cyclone shelter. However, they were not able to bring their belongings and, like everyone living outside the embankment, they lost it all: fishing net, goats, clothes, cooking utensils and their small hut.
After the cyclone, Anwar worried how he and his and family would survive. “I joined a boat for fishing, but I was still anxious as we were living under the open sky. Some organisations provided shelter materials to others who had land, but I didn’t receive anything as I didn’t own any land,” he says.
Red Cross support
“Then the British Red Cross came to Kuakata,” Anwar continues. “We were told they would help the landless people, with shelter and cash grants. In the beginning, the Red Cross gave us monsoon shelter kits, which my family and I used to set up a strong temporary shelter for the rainy session. It made us feel so secure.”
The Red Cross is now helping Anwar and more than 780 other families relocate to safer land a few kilometres away from their current location, outside the embankment.
“The Red Cross representative suggested that we organise an association for ensuring unity among ourselves. This is to help us get land from the government, make plans for our livelihoods, and ensure good quality shelters are built,” Anwar says. “Everyone in our community met several times to discuss how to form the association, which we have called Sharifpur Nobo Jagaran Samiti-1, after the new site we are moving to. There are five leaders in our Samiti, two women and three men.”
“All the Samiti members together decided to make me the chairperson,” Anwar explains. “A lot of responsibilities came to me as a result. Making the Samiti and getting the chairperson’s position has completely changed my life. Now I meet with government representatives and members of international organisations.
“The people of our settlement listen to my opinion. I no longer find it hard to express my opinion before others. In fact, instead of worrying about what others think of me, I now focus on working hard to solve the Samiti members’ problems.
“I am very happy to do something for my brothers and sisters. I have realised how much happiness we can get by working for others.”
Read more about recovery after Cyclone Sidr