Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox Bazaar. We stopped in at the oldest one that has been there for over 20years. Still it was a moving experience, thanks to Brac.net and Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh.
Living even in Dhaka, you witness a great deal of poverty, suffering, and with that an amazing spirit of resilience. Imagine having to rebuild after the floods season almost every year. Imagine crops destroyed by the torrential rains.
These tremendous people of South Asia have a difficult life, by any definition and yet, do not go down without a fight. They laugh and smile when they are happy; cry when they are sad; they hug their children closely; they scold their children sternly; they fight for what they believe in; and move forward even in times of deep despair. What strength they have!
A few weeks ago, we began teaching the students at my school a bit about the Rohingya Refugees — why they have come to Bangladesh and a bit about their history. Then our school (American Standard International School) began a fund raising effort enlisting parents, friends near and far as well as Facebook friends. I personally liaised with a few organizations through personal contacts trying to make sure the money went to a reputable organization working with the refugee camps. My search led me to Brac.net and I am so glad to have met and worked with such an amazing group of people.
This past Thursday, my school team headed down to Cox Bazaar. Though our collection was probably just a drop in a sea of need, we wanted to personally hand over the funds.
When I think of the exodus of the Rohingya from Rakhine, I recall the stories of the “Trail of Tears” which was the forced removals of Native American nations from their ancestral homelands. While the circumstances are different, there are so many parallels. A biased government forcing an ethnic group off land where they have lived for centuries.
Sadly, 60% of all these Refugees entering Bangladesh are unaccompanied children – orphaned at such a young age. They arrive after a treacherous journey of weeks having not eaten and emaciated. Left in the camps unattended they have become vulnerable to traffickers and many have already disappeared without a trace. Brac and Unicef have now set up kid “safe” houses to better care for these children.
“Often the new arrivals sit dazed and confused after their ordeal”, said Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh. Slowly they recover and begin to interact with the other kids and caregivers.
Over time, Brac hopes to convert these Kid Safe Centers into rural schools to begin to providing structure and routine to help shape the futures of these kids, said Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh of Brac.net. In the next month they hope to add an additional 1000 Kid Safe Houses. At present, an additional 10,000 refugees arrive every day. Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh of Brac.net is beginning to formulate a possible future for all of these people. She imagines when the emergency efforts subside and the flow of new arrivals stems, villages will form. Markets and sources of incomes need to be developed, she says. I look forward to seeing bright futures for all these kids and hope to be a small part of it. Our sincere thanks to Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh for the hospitality of Brac.net, its staff and for the time you spent personally showing us around the camps and explaining the many things going on right now and plans for the near future.