Gul's meal ticket

Host communities in Bangladesh impacted by the Rohingya refugee crisis are receiving support to increase their incomes.

Gul's meal ticket

Host communities in Bangladesh impacted by the Rohingya refugee crisis are receiving support to increase their incomes.


Tourists from all over southeast Asia flock to the town of Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh looking for a relaxing getaway by the sea.

But just a short car ride away, one million Rohingya refugees are living in limbo. And stuck in between these two starkly contrasting worlds sits Ukhiya, a large forest community home to thousands of men, women and children.

This community has seen first-hand the devastating impact extreme people movement can have on the local infrastructure, economy and environment and how exasperating it can be when competing with pre-existing generations of extreme poverty.

Many people in the district of Ukhiya are truly poor; electricity is hard to come by and the women must walk with their children to collect clean water for washing, cooking, cleaning and drinking. Toilets are scarce and thousands live below the poverty line, with only one meal sustaining many families from sunrise to sunset.

They’re also some of the most vulnerable people in Bangladesh with regard to the devastating impacts of climate change; many community members are just one heavy downpour away from landslides, soil erosion and crop failure.

Yet these same people; in the true spirit of Bangladeshi generosity, have opened their communities to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution since the Rohingya exodus in 2017. There are reports that when the first refugees, who came in droves, arrived in the forest on foot from Myanmar, local Bangladeshis cooked whatever food they had and brought it to the refugees in an act of pure kindness.
A lady stands amidst a forest holding a pumpkin.

Through World Vision, Gul has taken part in training on vegetable production for household consumption and income generation. Photo: Christopher McFarlane/World Vision

Nestled deep in the forest of Ukhiya is Gul’s home.

Gul is a 40-year-old mother of five. She’s lived in her little shelter, not house, for over a decade now with her husband and children. Her oldest girl Fatema is 14 and her youngest son, Mohammah Nurul is almost two. She’s a woman who certainly has her hands full.

Each day she’s up at 5am tending to her children before herself, just like parents all over the world. But the difference for Gul is that she’s not sure what the day will bring; will there be enough food for all seven of them?

“There’s often not enough food,” Gul says, tugging her headscarf. “Prices have gone up since the Rohingya have come, because the population is higher." 

Gul’s husband Nural, 50, works as a labourer when he can, but it’s not always consistent. The couple, both uneducated, hope their children can stay in school and learn. But the reality is that to survive, they need to eat, so earning money to keep everyone alive now takes over any plans for the future.

“I know it is bad that my son isn’t at school anymore, but what can I do, I am already in need?” Nur says.  

Feeding a family of seven is no mean feat, and with this unfortunately comes child protection issues. As Gul’s daughters reach womanhood, the family have to consider marriage as a viable option to get by. This is a position that no mother or father wants to be in. 

I hope my children can have a good education. I want there to be dignity in a good marriage for them, not for them to marry because of this.

Unfortunately Gul’s story isn’t unique in her community – many families face this dilemma. But something is being done about it. There’s a new project in their community called Gender Inclusive Pathways out of Poverty, or GPOP, which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
For Gul, taking part in the GPOP project has meant that she has received training in how to make and grow a seed bed, so she can start farming her own vegies and have something to eat each morning when she wakes up. And she’s only months into the project. In a few short years, Gul will be able to sell her vegetables and make a profit too. She beams ear to ear as she shows off her eggplants and pumpkins. “I love farming,” she says.
To us it looks like backbreaking work, but to Gul it’s a meal ticket; a way to support her family which she would have been unable to do otherwise. She’s grown a variety of vegetables in her garden beds and down the back of her farm there’s a version of a greenhouse with the biggest pumpkin growing. She picks it up with both hands and insists we hold it too. As we all hold the pumpkin in our hands, we realise that right there is the future for her family and it symbolises all that’s to come. Just imagine what the next two years will bring.
Alleviating poverty, particularly for people who have been impacted by a refugee crisis, is essential for stability within the Asia-Pacific region. Gul’s story, whilst only at the beginning, shows that positive change can happen when communities, from all over the world, work together. 

This project is funded by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Agreement Program (ANCP).