‘I feel happy that you ask how I’m doing’

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Since last year, when an influx of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled into Bangladesh, the humanitarian response has shown an increased progressive investment into communicating with affected communities. This is an important and welcome improvement in the delivery of humanitarian aid, but there is still very little communication that is produced with the Rohingya community rather than for them. Moreover, while many organisations extract information from the community and use that feedback to make their programs more responsive, there is still often a lack of communicating information gathered back to the community.

Internews’ Humanitarian Information Service aims to fill that gap. The project works with a team of 20 Rohingya refugees to not only collect community rumors, questions, and concerns, but also find answers to these questions and share them back with the community through a narrowcast program called ‘Bala-Bura.’ (Bala-Bura translates to “good-bad” in Rohingya, but the phrase is often used to ask “How are things – good or bad?”)

Two woman squat on the ground talking to each other.
Community correspondent Nur listens to the concerns of a Rohingya woman. Credit: Internews

The Bala-Bura team is a diverse group of Rohingya refugees. Half are women. Some team members arrived in Bangladesh last year and others have lived here for many years already. This diversity allows the team to connect to different parts of the community while also bringing their own experience and insights to the program.

“I have been working for several organizations for the last five years, and never received the amount of training I received from Internews.”  – Nur, community correspondent  

None of the Rohingya team members have ever done anything close to the work they are doing now. Some had not even switched on a computer before. However, all of them are extremely keen to learn after mostly having had limited or no access to education in the past. While this means the process to produce the first episode was long, the result is that the Rohingya team is extremely proud as they have been part of every step of this program.

The team goes into the community every day, even when monsoon rain is pouring down, stranding cars in mud. They walk to different parts of the refugee camps, asking open-ended questions and taking time to listen to what community members want to share. To collect feedback the team uses the ETC connect app, which allows for qualitative data collection. This approach means the team captures the priorities of the community rather than the priorities on the humanitarian agenda.

A view over the roofs of the houses in the campl
View over Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit Internews

Valuing quality rather than quantity when it comes to talking to the community has been greatly appreciated. A Rohingya mother of seven recently told one of our team members. “I feel happy that you ask how I’m doing, I don’t get to share my thoughts and ideas often.”

 “I never really thought about rumors; now I know how significant they can be to help the community” – Yousuf, community correspondent

Questions, concerns and rumors are what drives the Bala-Bura audio program. For every episode the Rohingya and Bangladeshi team discuss a long list of topics based on the collected community data. The first episode for instance, explained weather patterns in Bangladesh to address a rumor that suggested cyclones only happen in Bangladesh. The program always aims to give practical and actionable information that answers community questions. (Listen to the first and future episodes of Bala-Bura.)

While the Bala-Bura team in the camp is busy producing the next audio program, our data analyst collates and analyses not only our own data, but also partner data, such as from BRAC or Save the Children. This feedback analysis is then regularly published in Bangla and English for humanitarian decision makers as the joint “What Matters?” newsletter of Internews, BBC Media Action and TWB. (Read current and past issues of “What Matters?”)

“The community did not know much about a lot of the practical information that are crucial to live here” – Shibli, community correspondent

To share the Bala-Bura narrowcast, the team walks through the camps and sets up speakers in public places where people can gather and listen. This way the Bala-Bura team aims to go to the community rather than expecting the community to come to us. This also means that the audio can reach community members that aren’t able to walk far distances to other points of information.

A man and a woman sit together examining recorders
Yakoub and Shekufa, two Bala-Bura team members, practice using audio recorders together. Credit: Internews

Every time the audio is played in the community the Bala-Bura team collects feedback on what else listeners want to hear on the program. This way the Bala-Bura program ensures that its content and format is based on what the community find most relevant. This process is one of the key skills that the team have learned, or as Yakoub, one of the community correspondents puts it: “For the first time I learned how to help the community by collecting and providing correct and relevant information.”

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Bala-Bura is produced by Internews as part of the Common Service for Community Engagement and Accountability, in consortium with BBC Media Action and Translators without Borders. The work is being delivered in partnership with IOM, the UN migration agency, and is funded by the UK Department for International Development. Viviane Fluck is Humanitarian Project Lead with Internews in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, Internews also produces aradio and podcast programme under the HRSM project called “Shantir Lai Kotha Koi” (Talking Peace), which aims to build bridges between the host and refugee community (the programme airs every Monday 16.00h on Radio Naf, on http://internews.podbean.com as well as through listening groups.)

(Banner photo: Assistant producer Kaiser and community correspondent Yousuf carrying the Bala-Bura speaker off the main road, into the camp to set up a listening post for the community. Credit: Internews)