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The DEC invited us to learn how they provide ongoing support to Rohingya refugees.

Who takes care of refugees when everyone else has moved on? Recently, a few of the team attended an event hosted by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to learn more about its work in Cox’s Bazar, currently housing around 1.3 million refugees. Unlike your typical seminar or workshop, though, this experiential event was designed to take visitors on an immersive journey through a humanitarian crisis, and understand how the DEC responds.

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As the umbrella organisation for 14 of the UK’s leading aid agencies, the DEC launches into action in times of great humanitarian need, saving lives and rebuilding communities devastated by disasters around the world. Since the Nepal earthquake in 2015, Distillery has worked closely with the DEC during numerous appeals, creating social video content to raise awareness and much-needed funds to support appeal efforts. Because of this, we’re well aware of the immediate impact the DEC and its member charities can make, but this event offered a chance for us to learn how the DEC provides ongoing support beyond an initial crisis period.

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Upon arrival, we were led into a dark room with a screen. We watched a short film built from news reports of the Rohingya crisis breaking out, showing millions of people having to flee their homes out of fear of persecution. Three actors then brought harrowing stories to life, simply by reading  real-life accounts from those directly affected by the crisis. It’s one thing to see images in the news of people affected by a crisis — unfortunately, we’re all familiar with those — but to hear actual descriptions of horrendous ordeals people have been through made it more personal. Then, another film showed the collaborative response of DEC member charities and how their work has enabled aid to be delivered. These three elements worked together to set the scene for what we were about to walk into, and as we at Distillery had actually edited the films, it was moving for us to see our work in situ in front of a live audience.

Next, we moved into another room made to resemble an area of Cox’s Bazar, complete with aid tents, food stalls, and a water tank. Here, we were invited to explore and talk to some of the member charities to learn more about their work. Oxfam explained how they build huge rigid water tanks that can provide many years of service, ideal considering it may be years before Rohingya refugees are able to return home. What particularly struck a chord with me though, was a conversation I had with Age International. Older people are often overlooked in a refugee camp; it’s easy for them to feel isolated if they need extra help to get around or join in. Diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia unfortunately affect many families these days, mine included, but imagine having to deal with that in the middle of a refugee crisis. It was really heartening to hear that simple things, such as providing accessible toilets and creating ‘age-friendly spaces’ can make a huge difference to older people’s quality of life.

Something I hadn’t considered is how a ‘host’ community, that is the people who were living in the area beforehand, reacts to such a huge and sudden influx of new people. Oxfam showed us how they’ve successfully implemented a top-up card system that enables refugees to buy produce from local vendors to supplement basic aid rations. This not only builds relationships between host and refugee communities, it also gives refugees control in making decisions about what they need and want, instead of having to rely solely on receiving aid.

Spending time talking to aid workers who actually work in disaster zones was a really great way for us to understand that DEC member charity support goes beyond delivering aid in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. DEC member charities are in it for the long run, looking to help those who are in need of humanitarian assistance for as long as they can. And as a committed partner, so are we.