Hope Lives in the Rohingya Refugee Camps

The Hope of the Human Spirit

Rohingya children in refugee camps

Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, I had the opportunity to do volunteer work at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh with OBAT Canada. There are approximately one million Rohingya refugees in these camps, the vast majority of them arriving to Bangladesh after violence erupted in August 2017. There are countless harrowing stories of torture and torment that haunt the inhabitants of the camps, but my point is not to describe the genocide that took place in Myanmar. Instead of recounting the horrors of the genocide, the impacts of which continue till this day, I wanted to impart a message of hope.

This hope penetrated my heart as I saw it glimmering past the squalor and misery of the camps. Yes, there was pain, it was brutal, raw, and unimaginable. But masked behind the visible and invisible scars of the survivors, I saw hope beaming on the faces of the children in these camps. That hope shone brighter than any shade that could be cast by a vile military intent on destroying a people, mobs that inhumanly murder infants in front of their parents, or a complicit government that morally equates genocide with victimhood. The hope that I saw in the faces of the children of those camps, was the hope of the human spirit. It showed me that humanity, love, strength, and dignity can endure and thrive irrespective of the despicable actions of others.

Richness comes in Many Forms

When entering the camps children would immediately rush to greet us, shake our hands, and welcome us with smiles on their faces. These children had no expectations from us, they were just happy to see people visiting them, who presumably had some semblance of caring for them and their plight. They did not have their hands stretched out looking for handouts. They were dignified and gracious hosts, welcoming outsiders to their—for lack of a better word—home.

Dr. Bakali (rear) and Dr. Wasty (left) at OBAT distribution to Rohingya refugees

They shared with us. Not their material possessions, as there was not much to share. Most of the children were running around barefooted, with some barely having enough clothing to cover their bodies. Yet, they shared with us invaluable things that nobody could take away from them: their resilience, beauty, and playfulness. Those children showed me the resilience of the human spirit, the beauty of patience, and the playfulness of childhood more than I have ever witnessed in my life. My time spent with the Rohingya was short, but was immeasurable on the impact that it had on me.

Eventually, I returned home to continue my life away from Canada, residing in a country that is an international hub composed of roughly 200 different nationalities. As a Canadian expat, I occupy a unique position in understanding the international image and persona of Canada. Overwhelmingly, when I inform people that I am Canadian while living abroad they follow up with the questions, why did you leave? And, isn’t Canada the best country in the world? Canada is perceived to be a safe haven and bastion of progress in a world that is becoming increasingly populist and regressing towards nativism.

Hearing others’ perceptions of Canada has caused me to reflect on what it is I truly value and love about my country of birth. Simply put, it’s the people that I have been fortunate enough to grow up with, befriend, and work with. These are the same special people that have done countless hours of work, and have spent their efforts, wealth, and lives serving the Rohingya and other refugee communities that have been all but forgotten by the rest of the world. It is for this reason that I have and continue to support initiatives as noble and important as OBAT Canada.