It was halfway through an organised beach cleanup somewhere along the 150-kilometre coastline of Cox’s Bazaar in Banglaesh that Gemma Snowdon found a tiny pup who had been separated from his mother. It was December 2018 and Snowdon, who is originally from Australia, had herself landed in the tourist hub less than a month before.
Not sure what to do but armed with the resolve that she was not going to leave a helpless pup to fend for itself, Snowdon searched the beach to look for the mother. When she had no luck, she ventured into the surrounding areas.
Eventually, the communications head for United Nations’ World Food Programme in Cox’s Bazar that provides assistance to 854,000 Rohingya refugees in the area, Snowdon did what any animal lover would do – she decided to adopt it. She brought the pup back to her office, the only place where she knew it could be looked after because someone was always around. Within a few days, the pup won the affection of the staff . That encouraged her to ask the management to give the pup permanent residence at the office.
Over the next month, Foxtrot, as the dog was named, quickly gained size and recognition as he began accompanying his human colleagues on their humanitarian missions around the city and became synonymous with the staff at the initiative. It helped that Foxtrot was a handsome and affectionate dog, always on the lookout for pats and belly rubs.
Around this time, Snowdon started an Instagram account for Foxtrot. She knew that people sometimes create social media accounts for their pets for amusement, but coming from Australia, where her friends and family were not well acquainted with the Rohingya conflict, her motivation was a little different.
“Humanitarian work can often be a bit of a mystery to people who don’t work in that space and not many people I know know much about Rohingya,” Snowdon said. “Foxtrot’s Instagram was the perfect way to spread awareness about my work and stay connected to everyone at home at the same time.”
More than 745,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Cox Bazar since August 2017, when Myanmar stepped up its persecution of the ethic group. Since then, it has been estimated that more than 24,000 Rohingya have killed by the Myanmar military and Buddhists militia, while at least 18,000 Rohingya Muslim women and girls were raped.
As the Foxtrot Instagram account grew in popularity, Snowdon realised its potential and incorporated it as the official Instagram account for the World Food Programme’s initiatives in Cox’s Bazar. The dog now has 5,787 followers and is officially a humanitarian
As Snowdon describes him, “Our mascot and helper no.1!”
A dog’s purpose
The account contains information about a range of the programme’s initiatives: an attempt to promote good hygiene by distributing hygiene kits in the Rohingya refugee camps and the new drainage systems being built by his colleagues and volunteers for the camps.
When Foxtrot is not working, he hangs out with the locals, learning about their culture and posts interesting stories about Cox’s Bazar and the customs of its people. Every now and then, he even gets to play with colleagues visiting from one of the 83 countries in which the programme carries out humanitarian work.
“There’s not much to his social media strategy to be honest,” Snowdon said. “I think the account works because it takes a complex issue that makes people feel helpless and turns it into bite-sized chunks of information about the crisis which people can digest. He also offers little tips on how people can help from home and the fact that they don’t need to be helping in the refugee camp to be humanitarians themselves, which I think helps people feel less helpless when faced with something so enormous.”