Helping Rohingya Refugees Overcome their Tsunami of Misery
By Dr. Shujaat Wasty, Founder of OBAT Canada
What do I say to someone who was tortured and raped repeatedly, by numerous armed men, a handful of minutes after witnessing her husband and young children have their throats mercilessly slit, their bodies lit ablaze? The thought raced in my mind, on repeat, as I sat there trying to grasp the overwhelming magnitude of what Khatoon* recounted, and yet failing to reconcile it with my faculties of comprehension. Over the years I have seen many refugees or displaced persons masking unbearable pain and sadness, but at that moment, sitting face-to-face, her gaze pierced mine with their hollowness and burned a hole in my very being. And yet, she is just one of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya women, men, and children, each with their own individual stories of unfathomable cruelty. Many aid workers working with Rohingya refugees, regardless of their years of experience, have admitted to being left shaken by what they have heard and seen. It is a tsunami of misery.
To say that the Rohingya are a persecuted people is a gross understatement. Yet for decades, even without access to basic rights and opportunities, they were able to make a humble living in their villages in Myanmar. Despite facing poverty and oppression, they found love and comfort in the company of their families and a sense of belonging within their community. However, for most now, even that has been stolen – in the most brutal of ways. Countless women have been senselessly widowed, and innumerable children left forcibly orphaned and yearning for their parents’ love, their innocence abducted by horrendous circumstances. Yet even in the bleakest of situations brought upon by the lowest of human depravity, the resilience of the Rohingya people is awe-inspiring. The courage of the women is unparalleled. There is an undercurrent of spiritual strength that surpasses one’s thoughts.
For its part, OBAT has been on the frontlines from when the recent surge of refugees started arriving two years ago. Our team worked all around the clock – and continues to do so – to build and repair shelters, distribute food and other basic items, establish and operate our health initiatives as well as safe learning spaces for children.
These are important contributions – and even more that still needs to be done. It’s now been two years, yet the refugee camps in Bangladesh remain overcrowded, the terrain is precarious, and there are legitimate concerns about the risks to the well-being of the refugees. Other concerns pertain to health- including mental health, provision of food, clean water, shelter, education, and security; women and children are especially vulnerable to several dangers in the camps, such as trafficking.
As I sat there listening to Khatoon, I was at a loss at what to say. Eventually, as she got up to leave, I mustered out a question to the translator asking what could be done to help her. Khatoon paused before responding. It was not a request for material aid, or to punish the perpetrators of the violence, and neither to migrate to Canada; but her wish was to somehow return home, in the company of her late family, together in the simplicity that was their life, their everything. Such a simple wish, and yet so impossible.
* = name has been changed to protect her privacy.
OBAT Canada is a Canadian volunteer-driven charitable organization that invests in humanity by economically empowering those living in poverty as well as helping to improve gender equality. This enables these individuals to create a better future for themselves and their children.
The organization’s focus is local (in Canada) as well as in South Asia, a region where a substantial portion of the population lives below the international poverty line and faces significant challenges around female illiteracy and child mortality. Since 2017 OBAT has been involved heavily in providing relief for the Rohingya Crisis in Bangladesh. OBAT is leading the relief work on the ground by building and operating shelters, medical clinics, community centers and informal learning centers for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
To learn more about OBAT Canada and the inspiring work they do, you can visit OBAT Canada’s website. To support the Rohingya Relief or OBAT Canada’s other work, you may donate online. As well, we cordially invite you to an upcoming Fundraising Dinner for the Rohingya Relief, to be held November 16th, 2019. For more information about this event, you may visit the Events section or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope to see you all there. Thank you for your support and generosity.