"When the warning flags are raised, we dig a deep hole" – Follow-up on participants in the flood warning training courses in Dalbanga South

As part of the Gibika project, people at risk in the south of Bangladesh received emergency training from the start of 2016 to the end of 2017. The local inhabitants – both young and old – attended workshops, discussions and street theatre performances, where they learned about flood warning systems and what to do when an alert is issued. Shaun, a 15-year-old school pupil, played a leading role in a street theatre performance on the subject of flood warning. Bakhi, a 28-year-old housewife, took part in the emergency drills along with her family of four.


Shaun, the young 15-year-old actor, talking to Christian Barthelt (MRF).

MRF
Shaun, on the big theatre day, you played a boy involved in the flood warning drill who has to collect people and bring them to the shelters. What was that like for you?
Shaun
Well, of course, it was really exciting. At first, being picked was a bit of a shock. But at the same time, I was delighted. We practised a lot because the performance had to be really good. We took everything seriously, but we still had a lot of laughs while practising.

MRF
Why was that?
Shaun
Well, the whole story was a bit crazy. My favourite scene was where a matchmaker was supposed to bring a woman and a man together. But they weren't able to because of the cyclone, and I couldn't stop laughing.
Bakhi
But no one noticed during the performance. In fact, it all looked terribly serious. We found it really fascinating.

MRF
Bakhi, why did you go to the training courses?
Bakhi
We didn't know anything about flood or cyclone warnings. We really had no idea. So when the invitation came, my whole family went. I have two children, but my grandparents, my brother-in-law and sisters-in-law all attended as well.

MRF
And what did they learn from the drills?
Bakhi
An incredible amount. Up to now, river erosion, which is slowly eating its way into our village, has been the main topic of discussion. We are constantly asking ourselves when some houses will have to be moved. But we were paying less and less attention to the threat from major cyclones. And it's a long time since the cyclone shelter was built. Now we know exactly what to do again. 

MRF
And what is that?  
Bakhi
When the third warning flag goes up, my husband digs a hole one metre deep, and buries our papers and valuables in it. I pack some fruit and provisions and organise the family. Every second counts, because the cyclone shelter can fill up very quickly, and the next one is 3 kilometres away. 
Shaun
We have school lessons in the shelter over here, and the rooms are used as shelters in an emergency. They are built on metre-high stilts. 


Bakhi (28), a housewife from Dalbanga South and her daughter. The whole family took part in the warning drills.

MRF
Talking of school lessons, how did the other pupils react to the drills? 
Shaun
It was a really big deal. We received little notebooks with instructions and pictures from Gibika, and later we had to draw maps and talk about evacuation. Everyone thought it was great. Finally we were having something different in lessons, although I must say I enjoy going to school. And, of course, my performance in the street theatre was talked about a lot (laughs).

MRF
So what happens next?
Shaun
I hope they do it again because it brought the whole village together. It was a wonderful day.
Bakhi
The training courses need to continue. We had only one single drill in all the years before. And not everyone took part, because many people didn't know anything about them. Now, the people responsible must be nominated and exact rules set up. We have a lot of volunteers here in the village, and there is a strong sense of solidarity.

MRF
Our partner institute, the ICCCAD in Dhaka, is already in negotiations with BRAC and with a local NGO, Jagonari. A lot of organisations are interested in getting involved.
Bakhi
That is good news. Do you know how we felt after the drills? We felt a lot more self-confident again. 


Two pages from the laminated Gibika warning brochure.

May 2018

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