The community kitchen, initiated on a pilot basis in the Jamtoli Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya two months ago, is becoming popular amongst Rohingya women as a common place for sharing with each other.
The Dhaka Tribune found such community kitchens — a common cooking point for at least 25 Rohingya families — only at the Jamtoli camp out of 12 camps in the two upazilas in Cox’s Bazar.
The space provides cylinder gas ovens to the Rohingya women. There are also nature-friendly locally made ovens for the time when the cylinders run out of gas.
Six community kitchens were set up by Gana Unnayan Kendra (GUK) with the financial assistance of international NGO Christian Aid.
A field level monitor from GUK visits the community kitchens every day to monitor the needs of the Rohingya women, said officials of the organization.
GUK Community Mobilizer of Jamtoli camp Md Forkan said: “The Rohingya women do not cook in an open or congested space now as they did earlier. It reduces the risk of sudden fire in the camp and environmental degradation caused by deforestation.”
The Rohingya women who are now using the community kitchen hailed the initiative.
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One of the community kitchens at the Jamtoli Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar, Monday, February 19, 2018 | Dhaka Tribune
During a visit to two community kitchens named “Joba Rannar Sthan” and “Shapla Rannar Sthan,” the Dhaka Tribune found that the Rohingya women chatting with each other while cooking.
Mamtaz Khatun, 60, a Rohingya woman, said: “Earlier we had to go to the forest to collect firewood as no fuel was available. It would take two or three hours every day.”
“Locals got angry when we cut trees but we had no choice. We had to do that for three months. Many days we could not even cook because we had no fuel,” she added.
Another Rohingya woman, Asma Khatun of Mong E Daung village under Buthidaung township in Rakhine state, lost her son and brother during the crackdown of the Myanmar Army last August. She was upset all the time and did not talk much after coming to Bangladesh with 12 other family members. But she has recovered from the trauma thanks to the community kitchen, said her neighbour Moriam Begum.
“When we cook here, we also share our emotions and needs. Then we help each other as much as we can. This is like a sharing hub for us,” said Mamtaz, mother of four.
Humaira Akter, field level monitor of GUK, said: “This kitchen facility has become a place for Rohingya women to share their stories and promote social harmony and psychosocial well-being.”
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Rohingya women talk amongst themselves while cooking at one of the community kitchens at the Jamtoli refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar on Monday, February 19, 2018 | Dhaka Tribune
“We are happy having the cooking space. Those who come to cook here are from different parts of Burma [now known as Myanmar]. We exchange knowledge and ideas, including recipes,” said Tahera Begum, another Rohingya woman.
GUK’s Health Promotion Officer Esmat Jahan said: “The Rohingya women cannot raise their voices and express feeling at home in most of the cases, but they do that here.”
The Jamtoli camp’s site management authorities are considering setting up 200 community kitchens for 11,471 families of the camp.
Md Monir Uddin, zone coordinator of Jamtoli camp, said: “We have launched the facility to solve cooking problems in Rohingya communities. The camp lacks cooking fuel and space for which the dwellers are not having good food, giving rise to health hazards and domestic violence.
“We are providing spices, water, and fuel (gas, charcoal, or diesel) to the kitchen. Different authorities have visited our common cooking spaces and plan to install such facilities in their camps,” he said.
“The kitchens empower Rohingya women and girls, who are often housebound due to cultural and religious norms. They have found a place to gather, share, and speak up,” said Monir, who is also a zone coordinator of Christian Aid.