Stories from the Heart of the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

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Firoza, pictured here, with a patient from the camp.

We always love getting updates from previous graduates, especially from those working with unique populations and can give us insight into current world events and international aid efforts. One such graduate is Firoza (featured in this blog post), who had the opportunity to support and provide aid to Rohingya refugees amidst the refugee crisis in Bangladesh. Firoza works with Sajida Foundation, a non-profit social organization focused on providing quality healthcare and social development programs to disenfranchised and marginalized populations and communities. From October 4th, 2017 to December 31st, 2017, the Sajida Foundation sent a team of 22 staff (comprising of 4 doctors, 4 nurses – including Firoza, 10 volunteers in varying capacities, 1 pharmacy assistant and 3 administrative staff) to the Ukhia Rohingya Refugee Camp in order to reach the ultimate goal of, “…ensuring accesses to basic health and nutrition services among Rohingya refugees, including lactating mothers, newborns and children, to help them survive, recover and gain control on their healthy futures.” Firoza has very kindly recounted this experience for our readers (warning, please note that this passage includes details that some may find disturbing). She writes:

Our team operated at a health camp with a fixed location, where we offered primary healthcare with antenatal care, perinatal care, and emergency management. We also have ‘kid’s corners’ with extracurricular activities and drawing materials so that children can play, and consequently reduce their own stress levels. We provide them with healthcare and engaging activities to reduce the chance that they become involved with criminal activity.

We also have the volunteers provide field visits to offer assistance to those who are unable to visit our health camp. These volunteers visit each and every household, looking to help those who need it most, especially pregnant women, sick children and the elderly.

My responsibility in this team is to supervise the volunteers and nursing staff in our provision of healthcare to the residents of the refugee camp. We have encountered many barriers to care and hardships, for example, an unexpected crisis was when a Diphtheria outbreak occurred in the camp at the beginning of December.

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Firoza, consulting with a group of patients.

The conditions in the camps are very difficult. When we first arrived, more than 5000 Rohingya refugees were arriving per day. They did not have food, clothes or shelter, many Rohingyans made use of a nearby tree for a makeshift shelter. There are often cries for food from children and the elderly, but because they are so dehydrated, there are no tears. These memories are painful to recall. The lack of shelter rendered the refugees defenseless from the forces of nature, contagious disease and other animals. For example, an eight-month old child was bitten several times by a fox overnight due to a shortage of indoor accommodations. There were also a variety of other complaints, ranging from skin disease, such as scabies and ringworm, to post traumatic stress disorder. Most of the Rohingya people had lost one or two family members, with some losing more than five. Equally distressing, there were many pregnant women who had lost their husbands at the hands of the Myanmar military and consequently had been sexually assaulted.

One patient’s ordeal that stands out in my memory is one of a woman presenting with complaints of vaginal bleeding. She tearfully expressed that two months prior, she was in Myanmar and was three months pregnant at the time. One day, three Myanmese military members arrived unannounced at their house and killed her 13-year old son. As she tried to stop them, one of them raped her and caused her to spontaneously abort her unborn child. I could feel that woman’s pain, and it stays with me until this day.

Another story that stuck with me was of a child who was playing in our ‘kid’s corner’, where more than 20 children could safely play and interact with one another. We had instructed the children to draw and write what was currently in their minds and hearts and one child, a five-year old, wrote, “ I want to go back home.” That statement touched me because it represented despair, but also hope for a future, in a place that was home for the Rohingya people, where they would be accepted and belong.

Much gratitude to Firoza for sharing her story, despite the sensitive nature of her work. Thank you for bringing light to the atrocities and difficulties being faced by the Rohingyan people and thank you so much for your contributions – extending a helping hand to a population who so urgently need our help. For more information on the Sajida Foundation or to donate, please click here. For more information on how you can help the Rohingya refugee crisis, please click here.