Another day with the Rohingya

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Yesterday we planned to go further into the camps to meet some of the people and gain a better understanding of how they live, what their needs are, hear their stories, etc.
I didn’t realise how far and how deep the camps went. We got to the top of a hill and looked around – the camps went on for miles and miles. I could see the Myanmar border from there too.
Suddenly it started to rain – and it just suddenly pours. One of the families insisted we came into their tent/ home to shelter from the rain. The father, Yusuf, was actually still in the process of building his tent – his family had reached there just a few days ago. But he threw some tarpaulin over the half-built structure of bamboo sticks and ushered us in.
Inside we met his wife and their 4 children. The youngest was not even a month old. They told us their story: Yusuf was a pharmacist in Myanmar, had property (and) a respectable life. His wife was expecting their fourth child. They were very happy. Then one day, the soldiers came and threatened to kill everyone and burn everything. That was the day his wife gave birth. They had no choice but to flee. They took nothing. Whilst running the soldiers hit his eldest some in the head, blinding him in one eye. His wife had to run having only just given birth. They ran and hid with their children for days. His wife feared the baby would die. They eventually made it to Bangladesh, and to this camp.
I will never forget Yusuf’s face – a man who had once so much, now didn’t know what the future would be for his beautiful family. He said all they can do now is take one day at a time. There is nothing else they can do. Bangladesh won’t let them out of the camp – it is controlled by the military, and there was no way of breaking out. And they obviously can’t go back.
There were many other stories – women seeing their husbands being beheaded, villages being burnt, soldiers killing indiscriminately. Families have been ripped apart. Livelihoods have been destroyed. I had thought that the Rohingya were poor Farmers, but I learnt that many were educated, and had good lives, property, land.
Now they had a water pump out in the open to wash with, wood to cook food on, and a mat to sleep on.
The water from the water pump has no drainage system. We saw still water covered in filth and rubbish – the smell was awful. Unfortunately, it won’t be long till some sort of waterborne disease breaks out. The children play amongst all this. And the rains batter the camps regularly – we saw the rain turn the place into a muddy slush within minutes.

Yusuf’s shelter being built

Rubbish at the Camps

Carrying water back to the camps is an arduous journey

While we were there we suddenly heard children’s voices chanting the kalima and various other recitations. A makeshift madrassa has been created, and the kids are being taught their religion with pride.
And there are kids everywhere – so many of them! Some so cute, many of the younger ones naked. We learnt that there are 70000 pregnant women in the camp!! Imagine. We met one woman who was 8 months pregnant. Although she can get care from the temporary medical units, she has to walk very far to get there. So she hasn’t seen a doctor for weeks. We saw another woman holding the tiniest baby I have ever seen. That baby was born premature – he was clinging onto life, and I’m afraid he will die very soon. He looked fake, like a doll.
We helped with more of the distribution, but now I understand how far these people have to carry these heavy sacks of food, utensils and clothes. If the military weren’t there, the place would be total chaos. It was crazy as it was, but at least there is some order.
We drove back to our hotel in the dark. It was pitch black – there is no electricity in the camps. The only light came from the lightning and the rain continued into the night.
It took me ages to get to sleep – all I could think of was the poor, unfortunate people I had met. People who once had lives and dreams. Now, nothing.
While I have the comfort of a bed alhamdulillah, and air conditioning, and a toilet that flushes, they have a hard mat on the ground, a sweltering tent, the deafening sound of the rain on the tarpaulin, and miles to walk to a toilet that is nothing more than a hole in the ground with a shack around it.

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