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In My Experience: Visiting Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Posted: October 30, 2018

By: Saaniyah S., High School Blogger

“Saaniyah, do you want to go to Bangladesh with me and your brother to help the Rohingyas?” my father asked me in December. My father is a neurologist working in Chicago suburbs. This would be his third trip to Bangladesh to give medical help to Rohingya refugees. “Sure, that sounds okay,” I agreed. As sure as I sounded, I had no idea what to expect. What seemed more important to me was studying for final exams and enjoying my well-deserved winter break.

We were due to go to Bangladesh during spring break. As the date got closer, many questions formed in my mind. What would the Rohingyas be like? Would I be out of place? What would I wear? I was confused and didn’t know what to expect out of this trip. We set off in the evening on Saturday, March 24, and after many long hours, arrived in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh, the major hub of Rohingya refugees and settlements.

My first experience with the Rohingyas was the most emotional day of my life. The evening we arrived, we entered the Rohingya camp. There was a sudden change from concrete roads to narrow dirt and mud streets, and all around were small huts made of bamboo and cardboard. The Rohingyas were walking all around our van, much like people walk around your cars in India or Pakistan.

As soon as we got out of our van, all eyes were on us. Rohingyas lined up by a small building where they knew that my brother, father, and I would be handing out bags of food. As we walked toward the building, little kids came running to us with big smiles, and everyone around us muttered greetings. They made a pathway for us to walk into the building, as though we were honored guests. One of the Rohingya men opened one food bag and inside we saw the food that we were going to pass out to each family. The food was anything but nutritional. Fat grains of rice, a packet of oil, some spices, a packet of sugar. As soon as we began to give it out, they rushed to us as though it was some fancy food.

Volunteers handed me bags and I gave them to the people who had a ticket. One by one, they entered and I handed the 10 lb bags to them. Little girls, old women, fragile women with young babies, all were taking these bags back to their joyful families. It was a tearful sight to see that some families didn’t have tickets and were pushed away hastily by others. The men came in after the women and children. They pushed and pulled, and most got the food that they came for, but others didn’t.

We left the small building and walked toward a school. So many kids rushed around us, wanting to be the one to show us the way around the camp. We walked through small pathways around which were “homes” made of bamboo and cardboard. As we walked past, women in the houses, being shy and humble as they are, peeked out of almost closed doors. They covered their faces with their scarves in humility. It was so beautiful. One kid named Abdallah was quite friendly and fluent in English. “Myanmar army kill my mother.” I was so sad. He was an innocent kid. He called me “sister” and treated me honorably.

As we were leaving, crowds of kids and people followed us, hoping for a miracle of some sort to take them out of this situation. As we rode off in our van, two kids continued to run next to the vehicle in desperation. One let go after about half mile, while the other continued to run. But we couldn’t give them money, because doing so would attract everyone in sight for hopes of money too.

The next day, we travelled to a clinic where my father provided medical help to Rohingya patients in Cox Bazar. Most cases that we saw that day were bronchitis, anemia (low iron), weakness, stomach pain, or bone weakness. My dad told us that these symptoms could easily be treated with a simple multivitamin. It was so sad to know that a simple pill could bring tremendous change to these poor people’s lives. The children’s multivitamins were gummy bears. The children thought they were candy, so one by one they came rushing in and soon we had a whole crowd around us asking for them. The beautiful thing about these kids was that when the elders told them to stop asking, they immediately stopped without stubbornness. They’ve seen so much in their lives and are mature enough to stay silent when needed.

The next day, we went to the same clinic. As my dad was checking patients, I stepped out of the hot tents to play with the kids. The kids were so shy and humble that it made me feel like I was out of place. We had many gummy multivitamins that taste like candy, and I gave a few out to the kids that were right outside. They ate them like they were dessert, and it wasn’t even unhealthy for them to eat so many because they lack so many vitamins in their fragile bodies. Soon a whole crowd came around me wanting more of the vitamins.

We visited a nearby school for young children. As got off the bus and walked towards the school, little kids were everywhere. Two specific little girls caught my attention. One was all dolled up, wearing lipstick and a pretty clip in her hair. The other was asking the girl to comb her hair for her. They were so innocent and pure. When I asked them their names, they laughed shyly and ran away. Soon they came back with a bunch of other little kids who were curious to see us. The kids gathered in a big line right by us and observed our every move as we toured the school. They were so cute that we couldn’t help but get a picture with all of them.

Before we left on the final day of the clinic, I looked back at the red tents that I called a home for three days. I made many memories in this place and saw people who made me feel like I had more than I could ever ask for. This place where utmost humanity was displayed and where humanitarian workers came from far-off places to support a helpless people. It was a beautiful place and will forever stay in my memory. It will be in my heart always, and I will look back to it to remind myself that even in the darkest of times, there is hope to be found. To cross a bridge, we need only to hold out our hands to each other, love each other, show that we care, and appreciate our blessings no matter how small.

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