21 October 2015
Safia, 32, lives near Baliatoli, southern Bangladesh, one of the areas hit by three major cyclones in the past eight years. Still grieving for the loss of her daughter to a devastating storm in 2007, she describes her vital work within the community, making life safer for other children.
How Cyclone Sidr took my daughter's life
I lost my child in Cyclone Sidr. It was evening and we heard news that a storm was coming. My little girl said to me, ‘Mum can I wear something new please?’. I dressed her in a fresh t-shirt and pair of trousers. She ate rice that evening.
We set off for the cyclone shelter. My son, Shakil, was three. I carried him and wrapped him around me with a piece of cloth. My daughter went with my husband.
When we started walking we realised the gate was broken and the entire road was flooded. The water was frothing and cloudy. I tried to wade through the water as much as I could but then I stumbled over a ditch and I fell, together with my son. I clung on to him.
I heard my daughter say: “Dad, you won’t let go of me will you? Don’t let go of me. If you let go, I’ll drown”. It was after that that he tripped over a hole and lost hold of my daughter and she was swept away.
I found my daughter’s body. She was wearing the same white t-shirt and blue trousers I’d dressed her in the day before. I knew it was my Rima straight away. My husband thinks it’s his fault. He gets angry with himself.
Now I'm campaigning for a safer future
What we need for the future is stronger embankments. Nowadays if there is even a slight strong wind or rain I get scared. I think about running to the shelter. I think, I’ve already lost a child. I don’t want to lose another one. I don’t want any mother to lose her child like this.
When the government is making improvements to embankments, they should take into account how high the waves get. The embankment on one side of our village did withstand the tidal wave. The embankment that didn’t withstand was one that had been lowered by the local authorities to make it into a paved road. That should not have happened.
The importance of education
The village will improve if children study. I donated space in my courtyard for a small corrugated-tin building where local children can come to play and study after school, because I want the children in the village to be well educated. It will improve our village if the children get to study. My own children use it. It means they don’t have to go far from me.
Rima used to love playing in here too. Her favourite spot was beside the pillar in the centre of the building. I remember her whenever I look at it.
More children die from drowning in Bangladesh than diseases such as measles, diarrhoea, and pneumonia. Already 50 children a day are drowning.
Safia has joined an ActionAid-funded women’s group which campaigns for river embankments to be strengthened so they can better withstand flooding. But as waters rise, this will only get worse.
Help us make sure that a global deal is agreed at the climate talks in Paris that puts women and children, like Safia and Rima, first.