Barefoot Counsellors: Rohingya Refugee Response

Community Based Protection program operating in the Rohingya Refugee emergency response, focusing on home visitation, psycho-social support and protection-based awareness raising.
Community-based protection (CBP)

Barefoot Counsellors: Rohingya Refugee Response

Community Based Protection program operating in the Rohingya Refugee emergency response, focusing on home visitation, psycho-social support and protection-based awareness raising.
A group of women and girls seated in the floor.

The project in brief

Implemented by

Caritas Bangladesh


Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh


August 2018-Ongoing


Community Based Protection program operating in the Rohingya Refugee emergency response, focusing on home visitation, psycho-social support and protection-based awareness raising.


VIDEO: CRS overarching emergency response.

Project aims 

  • Goal: Rohingya refugees and surrounding host communities in Bangladesh, live safe, dignified lives.
  • Strategic Objective: Families in the Rohingya refugee camps and surrounding host communities live in a safe, dignified environment that help provide protection and support for the most vulnerable.
Children seated on the floor in a room looking at a woman standing in the middle.

Resources used 

Volunteers were selected from the host community who had experience in the crisis, and trusted relationships and acceptance within the community. The volunteers received training on psycho-social support and first aid, and conducted home visits to identify and support displaced and refugee men, women, girls and boys who are in distress. They provided critical information and referrals to available services to ensure greater awareness and access for those most in need.

The volunteers demonstrated a rich understanding of the social dynamics and general profile of the Rohingyas living in the camps. The volunteers also spoke the same language. This overall familiarity of the volunteers helped them to quickly build rapport and gain trust, and develop easy, ongoing access and communications in both directions. The Rohingya community members were open and candid with the local volunteers when discussing protection issues. The volunteers understood their social norms, cultural practices and traditions, and appreciated how to approach different groups of people sensitively and respectively. With no need for translation, they were able to share information clearly, effectively and transparently.

The volunteers will continue their services to their neighbors in the host community after phasing out of this project, as they have developed the skills and real practice of addressing and resolving protection-related issues, as well as linking to the most relevant means of support or services. This knowledge and experience will further enhance their overall self-reliance.


Animation on providing comprehensive care for children displaced by conflict.

Main activities of the Good Practice

The good practice meets refugee self-reliance through community-based protection in the following ways:

Handling tension, conflict or quarrels among neighbours: The camp is extremely congested and resources are stretched beyond capacity to meet daily needs. Without opportunities for movement beyond the area and/or meaningful employment, many Rohingya spend their time idle, with little to do in contrast with great desire to change their situation. Many are still grieving healing from the emotional loss and distress of what they suffered back home. As a result, neighbouring quarrels are a common phenomenon in the camp. Most of the time, it takes place without a serious incident. But, Barefoot Counsellors have been a helpful, neutral and sympathetic resource for families in handling quarrels before they take a more serious turn, and improving peaceful living condition in camp.

Addressing tension between husbands & wives: Within the household, tensions have become a common theme between husbands and wives given the extremely stressful living conditions: the lack of resources and savings, including dowry; large family size, with several family members needing to be fed and cared for; no regular work or income to do so; and idle time passing without a sense of control for what is to come. Divorce, polygamy and domestic violence have become the result of this tension in the home. Barefoot Counsellors are identifying these situations and doing their utmost to help couples address, communicate about and resolve their issues.

Resolving conflicts among family members: Conflicts have also been identified among other family members in the household, including fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law. Barefoot Counsellors help families to minimize these types of conflicts.

Denial of resource for women and girls: Women and girls experience restricted or denial of access to critical resources, including ownership of the wages, assistances/relief items, etc. in the camp. These limitations existed even when they were living Myanmar. Volunteers are helping women and girls to manage their needs and rights with these severe restrictions, and are working on ways to improve the situation. For example equal wages, ownership of relief items by conducting post distribution monitoring followed by awareness raising activities.

Providing Psychological First Aid: Volunteers received training to provide Psychological First Aid to the community members in need.

Replacing identification & benefit cards (ration cards, food cards, etc.): It is not uncommon for people to have lost their RCN cards (Ration Card Number), FCN (Food Card Number) cards, and other essential documents in their movement to the camp. Volunteers help link such members of the Rohingya refugee community with relevant service providers so that they can get a replacement or re-issue of their important documents.

Supporting people who have gotten lost in the camp: For people, especially children, who have gotten lost in the massive camps, volunteers help them to find their shelter and families. Trainings for the volunteers have helped them to know locations, context and communication channels across the camps.

Referring for social services: Volunteers are equipped with information of service providers and referring people as needed to relevant service providers. Volunteers also provide necessary information to the community about the local services available.

Providing primary healing: Volunteers provide primary healing to people in need, such as active listening and showing attachment with them, assurance of immediate support and recovery measures, connecting to the next remedial measures with informed consent and maintaining confidentiality.  

Conducting awareness sessions: Volunteers conduct community awareness sessions on gender based/domestic violence, child protection, early marriages, trafficking, etc. They were trained and equipped to effectively facilitate the sessions.   

Woman seated looking up front.


  • Caritas Bangladesh
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • C&A (Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer) Foundation

Challenges and how they were overcome


  1. One challenge faced during this project was having a gender-balanced recruitment of volunteers, especially given how a gender balanced team is a critical aspect of providing equal access to information for community members. The struggle to recruit female volunteers stemmed from religious, social and cultural reasons.
  2. Maintaining confidentiality also proved challenging, especially with sensitive gender-based violence (GBV) related cases. This is because of limited living spaces and inadequate understanding on the sensitivity nature of the information.
  3. Lastly, the community center had the perception of a place where only “counselling” takes place, rather than as a facility open to all for a variety of activities.

How they were overcome:

  1. The Barefoot Counselling (BFC) team spent extensive time sensitizing community members, especially community leaders, about the purpose of the program and the role of volunteers. Special attention was put into sensitizing the family members of volunteers so that the heads of household were made comfortable with their female family members participating as volunteers. This ultimately led to a gender-balanced team of BFC volunteers.
  2. To address issues of confidentiality, greater collaboration with the team, survivors, guardians/parents and sector members took place to ensure that confidentiality procedures are understood at all levels.
  3. The BFC Program is in the early phases of carrying out structured psycho-social activities at the community centre, as well as promoting community engagement in semi-structured and social activities.
Girl with an umbrella looking at a kid in front of her.

Results of the Good Practice 

  • Community members working as Barefoot Counsellor/Volunteers have received trainings in Psycho-social Support (PSS) and Psychological First Aid (PFA), which they will be able to carry forward for themselves and their communities for the rest of their lives.
  • Community members in the targeted areas have increased their knowledge and skills on identifying and mitigating risks from protection related issues.
  • Community members in the targeted areas have benefited from increased knowledge about, and access to, information and services thanks to home visits by the network of Barefoot Counsellors.

How the project meets the GCR Objectives

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

The Barefoot Counsellors program enhances refugees’ self-reliance by embedding individuals into communities trained in psycho-social support and psychological first aid. These skills help refugees increase their emotional and psychological resilience through positive coping mechanisms and strengthened community support systems.

Next steps 

The project is scheduled to continue until at least May 2020, and is currently expanding into camp 4 extension and the adjacent host community.

Two girls standing in the middle of a group of children seated in the floor.

Submitted by: 

Pintu William Gomes, Project Director, Emergency Response Program, Caritas Bangladesh