Guest post: “Who will read Taslima a bedtime story? Heartbreaking stories of Rohingya orphans”
Himaya Quasem recounts the stories she heard from Rohingya orphans and survivors living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Posted on: Thu 02-Nov-17 11:24:22
(16 comments )
As I tucked my three-year-old son into bed, I stroked his hair and stole one last look at his big brown eyes before he drifted off to sleep. Hours later, after a flight to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, I found myself gazing into the eyes of another child. Those eyes were also beautiful and brown. But they were filled with pain - the pain of a little girl who's seen things that no child should ever have to.
For while my son is being raised in a warm, safe family home in suburban London, 12-year-old Morsheeda has to endure life in a makeshift camp for Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar. And while my little boy is free to enjoy the innocence of his childhood, Morsheeda has had to watch both of her parents being killed before her eyes.
Her face carries the blank, shellshocked look of a survivor. But as she relives that terrible day, the tears begin to flow.
“My father was shot dead,” she said. “My mum also died. She was trying to flee from the scene and she was shot dead."
The Rohingya are a minority group in Myanmar, formerly called Burma. Ethnic violence which erupted on August 25 has forced more than 500,000 people to flee across the border into Bangladesh where they are crowded into unsanitary camps carved out of the hillsides.
As a British Bangladeshi who came to the UK at the age of five, and in my capacity as a stories and information manager at ActionAid, I thought I would be prepared for what I might see. Instead, it drove home the terrible injustice of a world where children who look like my son have to face such suffering.
It made me remember the birth of my child, in a clean modern hospital, with my husband at my side and the best possible medical care. Contrast that with the way Sakina's baby, Noor Fatema, came into the world.
Women and girls often suffer a double injustice in emergencies and humanitarian crises.
Instead of friendly nurses and state-of-the-art equipment, she was surrounded by terrified refugees packed into a rickety river boat as they fled the bloodshed. When labour began, Sakina's fellow passengers wanted to help but were too traumatised at losing loved-ones or didn't know how.
So Sakina, 35, had to find the strength to give birth in a corner of the boat - on her own.
"Only God fully knows what I went through," she told me. "I felt like I was going to die on the boat."
But Sakina and baby Noor Fatema survived and are now living in Balukhali camp, where more than 310,000 refugees - mostly women and children - have amassed in the past six weeks. Conditions are dire. Up to 100 people share one makeshift latrine.
When it rains heavily, as it did frequently during my trip, waste from these latrines flows down the newly-dug lanes and seeps into homes. I saw children playing in that water. I work for the international charity ActionAid, which fights to protect the lives of women and girls in some of the world’s poorest countries. Women and girls often suffer a double injustice in emergencies and humanitarian crises, and ActionAid began responding to the crisis by providing food aid and counselling for traumatised women and girls. Now, amid fears of the spread of disease, the charity is installing proper pit latrines, separate male and female bathing areas and tube wells to provide families with clean water.
My job was to document the lives of the women and girls living in the camps, so I could share it with the world. What I saw and heard has changed me forever - but it is the image of orphan Taslima's face, yearning for care and affection, that I simply cannot forget.
I met her while she was waiting in a line to collect a relief package from ActionAid. It contained soap, underwear, sandals and clothes - essentials for refugees who fled with nothing.
Although Taslima is only ten, she is bringing up her three younger sisters and has a far greater weight on her shoulders than most adults I know.
"I don't have parents," Taslima told me, as the late morning light glowed through the flimsy tarpaulin covering her hut. "My mother died after getting ill two months ago and my father was shot dead. He was killed in front of me.
"Sometimes my sisters cry when they miss our mum. When I see that it makes me want to cry too."
When our interview finishes, and I've told her about ActionAid's women's safe spaces where she can get help, I feel racked with guilt at asking her to share the story of her ordeal. Then she turns, her eyes filled with longing for maternal love. "You remind me of my mother," she says.
As I leave the hut I look round and see she is following me. We chat, and I can't help comparing her with my son and thinking: who will read her a bedtime story? Then, with a childlike swing of her arms, she walks away and is lost in the crowd.
Please donate to DEC Appeal to help us reach more girls such as Taslima and Morsheeda to get the help they desperately need.
Picture credits: Noor Alam/Action Aid
By Himaya Quasem
It's heartbreaking for anyone who is involved
lots of photos here
People need to be made aware of what's happening to these poor people
So what can we do?? I would adopt but is that even an option? How are these situations going to be helped.....across the world? Will they all grow up in orphanages/on the street?
This is an inadequately told tragedy happening under our eyes.
Thanks for bringing it here, and for the link.
Thank you for posting this and making me aware of it. I could only afford to donate a small amount, but I suppose it all helps. Sending love and hope to those fleeing violence, I wish you all the best.
I don’t understand why this is allowed to happen?
We talk about the Holocaust and say we’ll never forget and that it could never happen again..
And yet it does, all the time, all over the world. Ethnic cleansing is wrong and the men who enforce it are evil cowards.
The flying seagull project fundraise to go out to kids in the European camps as much as they can, unimaginable childhoods going on.
It's sad how long this has been going on for yet isn't main headlines. Absolutely awful.
I've been donating regularly. Not because I'm rich. We're actually not well off at all but over the past few years things seem so dire that enjoying things for myself whilst others are suffering to this extent doesn't appeal anymore.
I don't donate to charities who take fees for donations and search for ones who take admins fees from gift aid or from donations specifically for admin fees. I want every penny to go to these people.
Whilst I sit here comfortably with my kids (we're ill at the moment), these people have to live in muddy floored shelters. The other day I read they don't have sanitary products. Women bathing in the cold water at night. It is awful
Watching the pictures got me devastated.
How can we help?
These women and children need our support.
Please do look up The Flying Seagull Project on Facebook. They haven't got as far as Rohingya but they're posting currently from the camps in Greece. They are principally play therapists, children's entertainers, play workers and others who go out to the camps to work with the children there, they do amazing work. They fundraise constantly in the UK.
If anyone knows charities or projects for Rohingya I'd love to know of them.
Heartbreaking how can this be happening. So much devastation in the world. Breaks my heart.
The answer to how can we help. Donate donate donate. Raise awareness about it to people you know even if it's a WhatsApp update. A little prayer for them.
I personally use uwt to donate as at least I know every penny goes to them.
This is heart breaking to read even more so due to the deliberate killing of adults leaving the children orphaned.
As pp said I want all my donation used to help not swallowed up in admin fees.
Is the DEC Appeal linked in the post one that ensures all donations go to those who need it?
"So what can we do?? I would adopt but is that even an option? How are these situations going to be helped.....across the world? Will they all grow up in orphanages/on the street?"
Orphanages are shit.
I met a Rohingya child in North Sumatra, he was basically a slave (not sure if this is the right word)? The Indonesian man had a plant business and this child of 13 who didn't speak any Indonesian was doing all the labour.
I mean I am not sure if exactly slave is the term as it is somewhat complicated as it's fairly common in Indonesian to have informal adoptions where you go to live with friends/family, but he wasn't at school. I supposes it's food and shelter in exchange for labour, but whether at 18 or 19 he will go off and live his own life I don't know?
I presume he wouldn't have any paperwork or any rights - so the best case may be working for pitful wages on fear of being arrested.
AFAIK the Rohingya are international pariahs, they are ethnic Bengalis but Bangladesh doesn't want them (the Rohingya leadership are all educated in Saudi Arabia and sponsored by the predictable religious fanatics, whereas Bangladesh is relatively religiously harmonious).
MrsSiba I checked and they take fees. And then they give it to the many charities and those charities can also deduct fees. Hence I use UWT (have a Google). They have a 100% donation policy.
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