In September 2017 Integral Alliance launched a joint Disaster Response for the Rakhine State Displacement. Sixteen Integral Members have opted into the response and are working together to assist refugees crossing the border into Bangladesh from Myanmar. Since August 2017, 671,000 new arrivals have been registered, making this the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. The concentration of refugees in Cox’s Bazar is now amongst the densest in the world. Jacinta Tegman, President of World Concern and Chair of the Integral Board, recently returned from visiting Bangladesh. Here she shares with us about her visit ...
What was the purpose of your trip?
I travelled to Bangladesh for two purposes. One was to bring a donor to see some of the urban micro-credit work they support. My other reason, and definitely more pressing, was to take the opportunity to visit the Refugee Camps in Cox’s Bazar and to see first-hand the scope of the crisis.
What was your overall impression on arrival?
This was not my first trip to Bangladesh. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced visiting the camps. The disorganisation, lack of security, filth, and crowding of the shelters was all very disturbing. The overcrowding brings a very real threat of rapid spreading fire. And the soon approaching rains will add misery and suffering at an unimaginable scale.
Beyond the physical distress and squalor, were the traumatic and tragic stories of those within the camps. The trauma and pain were palpable. Many of those I met with were in a state of shock.
How is Integral collaboration adding value to what World Concern are doing in this crisis?
Again and again I would say that the value of Integral to World Concern is the strength of the relationships through partnership. We can infinitely do more together. As each organisation finds a place of service that highlights their strength and when we bring those strengths together, not only is the Lord glorified, but our reach goes farther. I had a moment in the midst of great sorrow where I saw new and afresh the power that our alliance brings. The strength of Christians doing their work out of their love for Christ and their love for those we serve, is powerful. I saw so much darkness and really some of the worst of humanity. I also saw the best of humanity in the commitment and love of Integral Members. I was proud to be a representative of this group.
Can you tell us about meeting with other Integral Members?
The night I arrived in Cox’s Bazar we were able to host a dinner for the Integral Members to come together and share. I was able to greet them, not only as the president of World Concern, but also as the Integral Board Chair. I hope that the words that I shared about my commitment to this partnership encouraged them.
I heard many stories of the difficulty of partnership in this context but also of the commitment to work through those challenges for the greater good and the work we can do together. I did have some opportunities to share with individuals there and encourage them to pray and to stand together.
Any specific story to tell from your trip?
I met a young woman who came to the camp four months before. She was in a shelter and lived alone and had nothing but the clothes on her back and those had been given to her. Her parents were shot in front of her and their house was burned to the ground. She cried as she told me of the pain she experienced as the military stripped all the clothes from her body. She showed me a deep scar on her face that was the result of being struck by a soldier before he raped her.
It was important to her to tell us her story. The military came to her village in the morning and surrounded the house. They separated the females and males and shot the men in front of them. She cried as she told me that when she tries to sleep she still sees the images of all of the dead bodies. Over and over she told me that she just wished she could die.
I have never felt so overwhelmed and helpless and I did the only thing I knew to do. I just cried with her and started to pray. As I started to pray I could feel her lean into me. At that moment I was not the president of World Concern, I was just a mom. I held that young woman for I don’t know how long and just let her weep in my arms and after a while I could not tell which her tears were, and which were mine.
Even in the midst of unimaginable pain and suffering I was grateful. Grateful that in that place Integral and her Member organisations are there. If ever there was a need for light in darkness it is there. I am so thankful that Integral allows us to partner and have people who love Jesus there to serve this immense need with love and compassion.
See here for World Concern’s Rohingya Crisis appeal, which includes photos, stories and a video message from Jacinta
Latest news from UNOCHA here
Photo: World Concern, Integral Members meeting together in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh