“We adopted a different approach to men,” said the 38-year-old. “We didn’t want to scare people so we called them and visited them and calmly told them that a cyclone is coming and that they needed to get to safety. We asked them if they needed help to get to the shelter. We asked them if there were pregnant women or elderly people in the house.”
Training as an emergency response leader.
Sabita was trained to become an Emergency Response Leader by ActionAid Bangladesh. In the hours before Mahasen hit, Sabita used her mobile phone to keep in touch with 22 women from neighbouring villages. They led the evacuation effort together.
“The cyclone lasted for three hours. Lots of houses were destroyed, trees were uprooted. Many people were badly hurt,” said Sabita. “It was a very difficult environment within which to work. Despite that, we all worked together.”
After the storm passed, Sabita and her colleagues set to work repairing homes. Sabita said that although Cyclone Mahasen had caused untold misery, it was inspiring to see women taking charge to rebuild their communities.
“If another cyclone such as Mahasen strikes then we have made a resolution that we will team up like this again,” she said. “It was beautiful to see the women working together.”
ActionAid’s emergency work.
With ActionAid’s support, Sabita has developed her leadership skills and travelled to national and international forums to represent communities vulnerable to disaster, and to highlight the critical role of women in disaster risk reduction and emergency response. Sabita has also become an activist in her own community, where she works to encourage community members to build their resilience to disasters.
“I have established networks with local government and non-government organisations to ensure that the voices of my community members are heard and considered in local decision making processes,” Sabita said. “Everyone listens to what I say and everyone respects me. I am so proud of how far I have come and what I am able to do now. I am creating change!”
Learn about ActionAid Australia’s Arise Fund, that supports women-led emergency preparedness and response.