In 2013, when Sabita Rani heard that Cyclone Mahasen was heading towards her village in southern Bangladesh, she sprang into action. The mother-of-two led a group of almost two dozen women who helped to get around 500 villagers to cyclone shelters.
"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 then 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.”
Sabita was trained to become an Emergency Response Leader by ActionAid Bangladesh. In the hours before Mahasen made landfall, 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 3 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 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.”
Photography credits: Turjoy Chowdury/ActionAid