Rohingya Crisis: Children are Smiling Again

In this sad world today, about 65 million people are refugees or forcefully displaced, according to a UNHCR report. The reality is grave for a person seeking refuge in another country, who do not have any guarantee of coming back to their own land, which they use to call home once.

UNHCR report also says, Kutupalong in Bangladesh is the largest refugee camp in the world right now, where more than 800,000 forcefully displaced citizens of Myanmar reside, among them 671,000 came to Bangladesh within a span of 2 months beginning from August 2017.  More than half are minors  among them.

Just after the sudden influx last August, when the makeshift camps were being set up, there were inadequate facilitates to provide shelter and required lifesaving items to thousands of incoming Rohingya refuges. Children were everywhere in the makeshift camps, they were roaming around with a blank look in their eyes, did not know what to do. Lining up and fighting for aid handed out by the host communities even sometime during the pouring monsoon rain in the chills of coming winter. This is not what a child supposed to do. Even a simple effort to make an eye contact with the children was not possible without a suspicious squint, seemed like they have lost their faith on humanity. They narrated stories of what they have experienced on the other side of border that can take away one’s peace and sanity, some say they are the lucky one who made it to the other side of the river.

Children are the most resilient among all of us. We could see them slowly adapting to their surroundings and with the reality of the camp as it was gradually being set up. Every time we visited the camp we could see these positive changes. Children being children, they started to play with each other, some of them towed a brick or something with a string: an imaginary toy car, some were busy flying kites made with plastic bags. As they started chasing each other throughout the hilly terrain of the camp, playing hide and seek, the camp started to sound more like a kindergarten rather a refugee camp.

We must give it to the efforts made by all the different actors including the host community. Immediate lifesaving support was the priority initially but soon learning and recreation centers, child friendly spaces, safe space for women and girls with child corners were being set up. Where children could go and forget the harsh reality and focus on something else for once. One day a short trek up on the hill took me to such a space where I could see children screaming in joy and talking in excitement, with paintbrushes in their hand painting their art teachers all over their clothes as if they were canvasses. Nearby there was this colorful learning center, decorated with drawings made by the children, inside they were chirping a..b..c..b…e..f..g.. Recently ActionAid arranged a Kite Festival to mark the international women’s day and the children took control over the sky, it was almost entirely covered with colorful kites. And on the ground, we could see hope in their eyes again while they fly their kites high in the sky.

Today more than 7 months have passed and a lot of effort had been made by the actors. Among all the indicators and monitoring tools to track progress, if you ask me what is the biggest indicator of change? I would say the children are smiling again!