Report from Willie McMartin

Day 1
Day 1 – Sunday 4th November 2012
Today was our first full working day in Bangladesh.

We attended the Concern Worldwide offices at 0830 and started to meet the local staff members.  The day would be one of orientation and generic risk assessment.  To start this process we were taken on a whistle stop tour of Dhaka.  This was designed to give us an overview of a city where millions live and would be at risk were an earthquake to strike.  This few hours was an eye opener, with new buildings being constructed virtually on top of older buildings, almost all available space being built on and a rush to build higher than was previously allowed.  It is a city with many very poor street dwellers who may be forgotten should an event occur.

On return to the office a start was made on carrying out a risk specific assessment of the Concern Worldwide building.  This was carried out for two main reasons, as a task for Concern Worldwide to enable them to consider any changes recommended and also as an example for the workshop sessions later in the week.

On return to the hotel in the evening work on making out the assessment was carried out for a further few hours.

Day 2
Day 2 – Monday 5th November 2012
Our second day got off to a poor start. It had been arranged that we would start with a visit to the Fire and Civil Defence training school. We would then travel to a school project where they specialise in earthquake preparedness and end with a visit to a street people drop in centre.
As we left to walk to the Concern Worldwide office the rain started and was torrential for most of the day. Very wet we arrived at 0900 and following a day planning meeting departed for our first visit. The time was 0945 and we were to be at the fire service school by 1100.
It was explained that it was approx 2km away as the crow flies, but as we are foreigners we are not allowed to pass through an area on the direct route, so it is a 5 – 6 km trip for us. After about 2km the car breaks down. Now this is an experience. We are stranded in a middle lane with nose to tail traffic. There are more vehicles than on the M6 at rush hour but generally they are only moving at about 2 mph. With much honking of horns we push the car to the side of the road and are soaked with rain for the second time in 90 mins. A replacement vehicle turns up and we continue.
As we are now late, the visit to the Fire Service will have to be re scheduled, so on to the school.
The Alhaz Abbasuddin High School is one of many in a poor area of the city. It has however taken the national school earthquake awareness training to heart and also to a new level. In partnership with some NGOs and the Fire Service they have developed a training programme. This was mostly at the suggestion of the students and is not the normal.
Having been instructed on how to remain safe should a quake occur they then painted the skills onto the playground walls so all would remember what to do. They trained small teams of students to care for those in the building in the event of such need. The teams cover rescue (helping all out), fire fighting, first aid and safety. We were given a demonstration by the girls first aid team on how they would treat casualties.
We then attended a street peoples drop in centre. PDC1 (pavement dwelling centre). This is funded by donors and supplies a non official teaching area, (not a school as it is unofficial), a nursery area, a rest area, cooking facilities, wash room, savings scheme and other support to some of the poor in the area. They have very little but shared some biscuit with us and a huge number of smiles and songs.
The rest of the day and well into the evening was taken up in preparation for the next 3 days training.
This has now been split into 2 groups – A ½ day general for office staff and then 2 ½ days for specific staff from various NGOs.

Day 3
Day 3 – Tuesday 6th November 2012
This was our first real day delivering training.
We had a very general session for the Concern Worldwide staff members based in their office. This was a half day and covered awareness and risk assessment. It was meant only as an introduction to these topics and was not designed to give any more than a very basic knowledge to help ensure their safety and that of their families. We were meant to have 16 students but ended up with 18.
The afternoon saw the start of a 2 ½ day course designed to help NGO representatives in understanding the science behind earthquakes, the limits of the science to predict such events, how to carry out more complex risk assessments than those for the morning group and to involve the community in disaster preparedness. Again we ended up with 2 more students than had been expected.

It was a long day with 9 hours of training as well as the setting up and clearing up. It was however made worthwhile when we heard comments that at least one member of staff was going home to involve her children in a home risk assessment.
We were also asked to try and include some extra visits and discussions with organisations on the Sunday and Monday before we return home. The diary is looking decidedly full now.

Day 4
Day 4 – Wednesday 7th November 2012
Today was a day when all would take part in training. More importantly all would take part in workshops where those attending would be asked to discuss and then feedback their findings on some very searching questions.
Susanne and Willie would act as facilitators during the discussions and would then answer as many of the points raised as they possibly could and finally undertake to find any answers to any points which the students felt were not fully answered.
Once the workshop sessions were completed an introduction to personal risk assessment would be given, which would set the scene for tomorrows session.
It has to be said that what looks like a relatively easy day turned into one of the most intense and searching that most in our role will ever experience.
It closed with statements such as “I do not want to talk as I am becoming so emotional”.
I in turn feel so humbled to be able to try and help them.

Day 5
Day 5 – Thursday 8th November 2012
This was the final day of training and it would show if we had achieved our objectives and those of Concern Worldwide.
We had a good start to the day with a very short safety video which helped make the point that in risk assessment it is an assessment and you must understand the effect your actions may have.
The group were then shown a demonstration of how to do a rapid risk assessment of a room within the office complex. They then split into 2 working groups and started with the first group doing the ground and second group the first floors.
We were concerned that this concept may not have been fully grasped as the notion of personal safety, especially when they drive does not appear high on the list of priority. We need not have worried. They spent approx 30mins looking round and then on returning put together their report.
One group produced an excellent power point presentation complete with pictures which most professional safety officers would have been proud of. The second group were just as good but without the presentation.
Again they were split into two workshops and asked to answer a list of questions but each focusing on differing areas within program work. Each group appeared very happy with this type of task and what is best described as some good discussions were a help.
As the workshops wound down for a break it was apparent that on this occasion both reports would be using power point.
Susanne then reviewed the last few days and once all the questions were answered she handed out feedback sheets. As an experimental course this for us was a very important item. The training ended with group photos.
As most departed one of the female students said that the group she was in, or at least the ladies in it, felt “I had a face like a baby”. We have arranged for the next training to include eye tests prior to starting.

As we started to pull our thoughts together, life again became busy.
Friday and Saturday forms the local weekend here with almost all offices closing down. We were looking forward to some down time before a hectic couple of days before departure.
Not to be – We now have meetings on Saturday which has now simply become a working day. We also had a meeting in the evening with the organisation who have been tasked to assess the risk within the city and nationally. This was very informative. A short meeting was also held with Concern Worldwide head of mission. This will be followed up with further discussion on Monday.

Day 6
Day 6 – Friday 9th November 2012
Today we had some time out.
We are just back in from a car trip round some of the sites in Dhaka. It has some very impressive buildings and when we stopped at a Hindu temple I got zapped by an old woman who put a spot of something on my forehead. We wandered around and it was very interesting. Locals kept coming up and asking me where I came from and were unusually friendly. When we got back to the car the driver explained that as a visitor the mark informed all that I was a friend and must be made welcome.
We had a walking tour of part of the old downtown area and ferry terminal. Two local guides acted as our protectors and were a great source of information, or at least as best we could with the language differences. We ended up at the war museum, which is very basic and sad but so worthwhile.
We were invited to dine at the deputy head of mission for Concern Worldwide so have to be on best behaviour. This was also attended by two others who are working as consultants. They were able to give some additional insight into what is happening in the area.
We have also sorted out another meeting for tomorrow so it is now a full working day.

Day 7
Day 7 – Saturday 10th November 2012
Today started with around 6 hours work by me on a basic risk assessment of the Concern Worldwide office in Dhaka. Susanne has been working on her presentation for tomorrow and it is taking her every available minute to get it correct for the proposed audience. At the office we have the first meeting of the afternoon. Niels, who is the extended manager, was unable to attend any of the training, so has asked to be brought fully up speed with the sessions. He starts to engage with the subject and of course what was to be a 30 minute or so meeting becomes almost 3 times that. He suggests that some work needs to carried out internally by Concern to try and ensure staff safety. He also asks for additional information on associated items of equipment such as water filter systems etc. Agreement to have some of our literature translated into the local language is also reached. We end with him on side and that is very important if this type of programme is to move forward.

Due to the additional time taken our second meeting starts almost immediately. This discussion is centred around helping in the rural area rather that within the urban environment. We are introduced to a lady who has been working on an intern program with Concern Worldwide. She has produced a very lengthy document on harvesting and use of water such as rain. All agree that earthquake awareness in the rural community must be raised as at this time it is virtually nil. However how to achieve this and who is best placed to deliver the information was a major point. It is agreed that Shamnaz will become part of an information sharing group which will be set up from those who attended the training. We will try to simplify all our literature and it will also be translated.
Shamnaz will also be responsible in the first instance for delivery. We will all work to produce additional information for her use. We are informed that Bangladesh is working with the Climate Change Parliamentary Group which has been set up and is being chaired by Gordon Brown.

All this looks like we will have more work on our return to UK and it is possible that additional funding may have to be acquired for this to carry on.

Day 8
Day 8 – Sunday 11th November 2012
Today was scheduled to be a very busy and very different day.
I have just returned to the hotel following a 16 hour marathon in diplomacy, network building and just pure friendship.

We started when Oxfam collected us for our first meeting at Dhaka University. The meeting was around the technology being used to monitor events in Bangladesh. We ended it with a look at the university shaker table where special scaled down models of reinforced and unreinforced buildings had been constructed for destructive testing.
This was followed by a visit to the Fire Service. We were to meet the Station Officer for approx 30mins but ended up meeting the Fire Chief for Bangladesh and the head of training. The visit lasted around 2 hours. We then met a number of people from different sections within the building and planning departments. This was followed by a seminar where Susanne gave a 40min presentation on her work with BGS.
We were then invited as guests for a meal at the Old Intercontinental Hotel. As I say we ended up as though we were out for a night with some friends.
By the end of the day we were convinced that this may just be the start of a very long and time consuming process, with most of those we have met with, wanting some type of continuing collaboration.

We are due to depart for the airport at 1800 tomorrow but with meetings planned up to 1700 and the Dhaka traffic we will see.
Due to the lack of time this will be my last update until I return to the UK.