Even from a young age Kaniz Fatema has been determined to help people.

Today she is an IRC midwife in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Nearly one million Rohingya refugees are living in Kutupalong Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar, an overcrowded camp where women and girls are especially vulnerable. Kaniz tells us about her experience as a female staff member, working on the frontline of one of the world’s largest refugee crisis.

Kaniz Fatema
Photo: IRC

"How did I end up becoming a midwife? I guess you can trace this back to my childhood.

I have been so lucky to grow up in a family who have supported me throughout my life. My parents have always wanted my younger sister and I to have an education. My father is my main inspiration – he taught me to value my independence as a woman. From my parents I have learnt that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything.

This is why I chose to push myself from a young age. Getting involved in activities outside of school eventually led me to win a scholarship to train as a paramedic. I remember how excited I was! My family were so proud of me.

Even during my scholarship days I was never fazed by being a woman in the medical profession. I remember one day we had a career building workshop where we played a cricket match. As you may know, cricket is an incredibly popular sport in Bangladesh, so everyone on my course, both men and women, were involved. It was a brilliant game, and best of all, I was awarded the player of the match! I learned from this experience, never to consider myself any less than a man. 

It was a great pleasure to study medicine and paramedics. It made me realise that I all I want to do in this world is help people. After my scholarship studies, I found a job working for an international organisation that specialised in maternal and children’s health: this is how I first trained to become a midwife.

I have been working as a midwife with the International Rescue Committee for around a year. I remember when I first started this job, when I told everyone that I am going far away from home work in a refugee camp Cox’s Bazar many people discouraged me. They said: 'Life will be too difficult' or 'It is too far away, you will never manage.' I ignored them. I wanted to take on the challenge.

When I first arrived in Cox’s Bazar, I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the crisis that lay before me. I felt insignificant. It was like my work as a midwife was a drop in the ocean: no matter how much you do, the need is always there. The numbers a huge. Today almost one million Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh.

Another challenge I had was being unable to speak the language. At the beginning, I couldn’t understand people, which was particularly difficult when speaking to the people we serve and trying to understand their needs.

However I was soon able to overcome this. I worked hard to learn the language. Through listening to people, I have also learned more about the atrocities and trauma that many Rohingya women had faced.

It is so important that I form relationships with the women I work for. Now many of them don’t just come to me for treatment, they also come to share their concerns and thoughts with me, because they feel safe and trusted. I think this is the aspect of my work of which I am most proud.”

The International Rescue Committee provides vital health and protection services in Cox’s Bazar, with a particular focus on protecting vulnerable women and girls.

About our work with the European Union

The International Rescue Committee partners with the European Union to provide life-saving support to people caught in conflict and disasters around the world. Our work funded by the EU enables people to survive, recover and rebuild their lives.