The United Nations has featured Bangladeshi architect Rizvi Hassan as "Real Life Hero" on its website, to appreciate his contribution in building a safe space for Rohingya women refugees.
Rizvi is the driving force behind the construction of a safe space for Rohingya women and girls, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, site of the world's largest camp for displaced people, and home to around a million Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar.
He collaborated with the NGO Brac and Unicef to create a community center of safe space for women and girls in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.
The centre, designed and built by Rohingyas, provides counselling and training to the women and girls.
Hassan shares his story as part of the #RealLifeHeroes campaign, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ahead of this year's World Humanitarian Day, on August 19.
He said when he was growing up in Dhaka, he had an interest in art and science. Later, his sister helped him to discover architecture as a field to explore both interests at the same time.
"And as I started studying architecture, I found out it could be a lot more," he said.
Improving society with architecture
Rizvi worked for a contemporary architecture firm for a short while, until he realized he had to be involved in something that has more to offer, he said.
Then the young architect started working with BRAC on documenting cyclone shelters in Cox's Bazar, and came to know others who were working in different sectors on the refugee context there.
Rizvi said "We started sharing ideas on what can be done and how we can contribute, and came up with few projects that we could collectively design. As we started working, other organizations became interested in collaborating."
The Safe Space project came about when aid workers involved in gender-based violence discussions in the refugee camp in Cox's Bazar reported that, based on their findings, the community needed a safe space for women and girls to receive psychosocial support, skill training etc.
"We decided to create a building that provides a vibrant interior space and the rooms which separates it from the outside creating a screen itself. The oval shape, with a series of columns, are considered to withstand strong winds, in a cyclone-prone area," he added.
Making an impact
Rizvi wanted to make an impact on the lives of marginalized people. That is why he loved doing the work.
"On this particular project, we received very positive feedback from the refugees, NGOs and the host population. It has become so popular that members of the local Bangladesh community also wanted to use the facility," Rizvi said.
He revealed that 80 percent of the beneficiaries of the project are Rohingyas and 20 percent are local Bangladeshi women and girls.
"Initially when we began the project, the local community and the refugees assumed we were building a football stadium! Our workers could not understand what we were trying to achieve, and we would draw curious crowds."
When the form began to take shape, people were excited, and the men were keen to use the facility for themselves.
"But when we explained to them that this was for women and girls, they were quite responsive: they informed their wives and daughters about the facility, and encouraged them to enroll," he added.