Integral Members Food for the Hungry and Medical Teams International are working together in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh to operate a primary health programme for Rohingya refugees. Matt Ellingson, Food for the Hungry's Relief & Humanitarian Affairs Director, shares with us more about this joint initiative ...
Tell us a bit about the history of the Medical Teams International (MTI) and Food for the Hungry (FH) partnership
In 2017 a massive influx of refugees arrived into the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh. By the late summer numbers had swelled to nearly 700,000, mostly women and children, carrying with them only a few items but memories of death and persecution which had prompted the perilous journey.
FH has been operational in Bangladesh since the early 1970s, and is a fully registered INGO in a context that is difficult to navigate even outside of times of crisis. Together with MTI we participated in a joint Integral rapid assessment and determined that with our legal platform and government relationship and MTI's technical expertise in Primary Health (but without registration to operate) that by working together we could fill a key humanitarian gap.
The Joint Rohingya Response Program (JRRP) was launched as a response to the needs assessments and the desire of the FH and MTI leadership to bring our organisations together so that we could serve an extremely marginalised people. In the first year the programme work was supported by UNICEF and UNHCR with significant cost-shares coming from FH and MTI. The following two years has seen continued support from UNHCR with supplementary funding from the Government of Korea as well as sizeable FH and MTI contributions.
What has been the role of Integral in your partnership?
FH and MTI are well acquainted with each other having a long history in several alliances. The Integral Alliance, however, has consistently created the space and platform to develop systems and relational opportunities where the path towards collaboration is smoothed. The joint assessment was a key moment where early responders used their field-based rationale to develop the framework for a response. These relationships of trust were certainly nourished in and around the Integral ecosystem.
How are you working together in the Rohingya refugee crisis?
FH and MTI have been operating a primary health programme consisting of up to six clinic facilities plus teams of community health workers. This programme provides access to quality health care to a catchment area of more than 350,000 people. Tens of thousands of consultations have occurred over the life of the multi-year programme.
The first year of the program included the herculean task of constructing the health facilities from the ground up while constantly evaluating the most critical primary health concerns which the refugee community was facing. At any given time the team on the ground was in the process of pivoting from one emerging crisis to another, all the while learning how to operate in this complex environment together and alongside our UNHCR, UNICEF and other INGO Partners.
2020 has seen these same dynamics intensify with the added uncertainty caused by COVID-19's impact all over the world, as well as how it was predicted to spread in the tough conditions of a massive refugee camp.
Integral received a generous gift from Compassion this year that went towards this joint work. Can you tell us a bit more about the project they helped fund?
The resources that Compassion provided through Integral are going directly into the JRRP. In particular, the numerous and unanticipated stresses and needs for adjustment due to COVID-19 were beyond budgeted expectations. For example, facilities needed significant changes to ensure that virus containment was possible - this included everything from training to facility adjustments to protective equipment and sanitation.
Throughout the enormous challenges of COVID-19 FH and MTI, through the JRRP, has continued providing essential services and critical life-saving care. Compassion support, facilitated through Integral leadership, has helped both FH and MTI maintain this important service to the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh.
What is your hope for the future with this joint work?
FH and MTI are currently seeking continued partnership with UNHCR in 2021, and will be submitting a proposal shortly. The plight of the Rohingya will not be solved in the short term as it requires the government of Myanmar to change conditions that would allow a free and voluntary return. Even when these changes happen inside Myanmar the return will take time, be complicated and the Rohingya will most certainly need the advocacy and presence of the international humanitarian community. I project that FH and MTI, based on our good collaboration and knowledge gained of the Rohingya, will be key players in whatever the future holds.
What inspires you about Integral?
Integral provides a valuable platform for Christian humanitarian professionals from Member organisations to gather, learn, create shared understandings and systems for analysis - all of this is critical to being able to launch and sustain a collaborative operation. The resilience of communities under great pressure is inspiring and motivating. Integral's knack at pulling the broad community together around tactical topics, in my opinion, is the most important aspect.
Photo: © Medical Teams International
Isolation treatment center staff stand outside the clinic on the day of its inaugural ceremony, 18 May 2020.