Rohingya Refugee Camp

Healing Through Hope

Safe spaces for children in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

In what used to be tourist beaches and recreational land now sit thousands of semi-permanent structures that house Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of displaced people are crowded into a refugee camp that, until a few years ago, simply didn’t exist.

The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority, many of whom lived in the Rakhine state of Myanmar prior to August 2017. Tensions between the Rohingya, who desire autonomy in their religion, and the central government reached a peak and led to extreme violence. The rape, murder, and destruction of villages on the part of the Myanmar military triggered a mass exodus of Rohingya.

Most Rohingya sought refuge in nearby Bangladesh, which has limited resources and land to host them. Close to 1 million people are now refugees in the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. With so many people seeking safety from violence, these camps are overcrowded, prone to the spread of disease, lacking safe water and housing, and full of traumatized individuals.

Addressing Trauma

Bangladesh Nazarene Mission (BNM), which has a long history of compassionate ministry in the country, decided last year to create a center in the Cox’s Bazar camp that would serve children and youth, as well as traumatized adults. 

Monir is one of the children who fled to Bangladesh with his family, traveling for seven days by foot and boat. The family was so desperate for food during that time that they ate leaves and drank river water, risking illness. By that point, Monir had already experienced extreme trauma, not the least of which was the death of his grandfather, to whom he was close, and the burning of his home.

Many children living as refugees can miss months and years of school. Luckily, Monir was an exception. Because of the BNM center, he is able to attend classes and receive counseling to help him process his grief and loss. He says that one of his favorite things to do at the center is draw; on the day he was interviewed, he was drawing a picture of his grandfather. 

Each day of the week, the center serves almost 100 children like Monir who have been forcibly removed from their homes. These are children who have watched as family members were brutally killed, and who have no idea when they might be safe and settled again. They receive tutoring on various school subjects, as well as lessons on health and hygiene. They have recreational times, learn moral lessons, and receive some nutritional support. The staff members working with the children at the center are trained in trauma informed care and are able to support them in processing their tragic stories and backgrounds.

Anwara's Story

For the adolescent girls and adult women in particular, there are additional health and hygiene classes, as well as counseling at the center. Many of these girls and women have experienced horrific sexual violence. The BNM team has come alongside those who visit the center and actively seeks to assist other women and girls in the refugee camp who are struggling with the trauma of violence and displacement. 

Anwara, age 13, fled Myanmar with her parents and six siblings, leaving behind her entire life. Before they left, someone set the family’s house on fire while they slept, a violent act that has become common during the conflict. While the parents and children were able to escape, Anwara’s grandparents were killed by the flames. Eventually, the family joined the thousands of others at Cox’s Bazar. But Anwara struggled with the deep loss and trauma she had endured. 

“I was mentally very distressed and upset because I lost my education life, my dreams, and my hopes for the future,” she says. Anwara discovered community, though, when she was invited to the center set up by BNM. There, she met other adolescents with similar stories. She could attend group discussions and individual counseling sessions to begin to process her pain and receive the education she craved. “I started again dreaming in my life,” Anwara says.

Written by Brendon Sypes

Pictures courtesy of Bangladesh Nazarene Mission

Names have been changed