Poetry and art provide ‘hope away from home’ for Rohingya refugees

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News Desk

Reflecting on a sixth World Refugee Day in Bangladesh

My name is Shahida Win. I was born in Irrawaddy, to a Rohingya father and a Myanmar Muslim mother from the Bamar ethnicity. In 1996, my father, who was originally from Maungdaw township, was deported by the Burmese government to southern Maungdaw, Rakhine state, solely because he was a Rohingya.

A few years later, we joined my father and settled in Maungdaw. After finishing primary and middle school in my village, I attended high school nearby where I encountered kind and helpful teachers who taught me valuable life lessons. I graduated in 2012 but was unable to pursue further studies as my family had no income. To support them, I started working as a doctor’s interpreter at MSF. Later, in 2015, I took a secret job as a journalist, documenting incidents faced by our community. It was a perilous undertaking, but it was my first opportunity to contribute to my community by bringing awareness to our struggles.

Following the events of August 25, 2017, my family and I were forced to flee to Bangladesh. This was the beginning of my refugee life. I now reside in Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.

My hopes for my family
A father is like the main pillar of a house. My father, a respected religious scholar, passed away in 2020. In the absence of his unwavering support, we have felt vulnerable. My brother, once a volunteer at a humanitarian organization, lost his position due to funding shortages. Unemployed and unable to contribute to his family’s well-being, he feels desperate for a solution. He contemplates following in the footsteps of other Rohingya youth who embarked on dangerous journeys to Malaysia to find opportunities. The stress has affected his mental health, and I fear the loss of his once positive and hopeful spirit.

I dream of seeing my younger sister, Omal Khair, graduate from university and become a role model for young girls in our community. I have watched her apply her photography skills to raise awareness of Rohingya issues, as a media fellow for Fortify Rights. She is talented and passionate, and loves learning. I do not want her to become another marginalized woman, deprived of the education she rightfully deserves. I refuse to see her forced into early marriage or a life of limited opportunities. I envision her flourishing, inspiring others, and bringing pride to our community.

The challenges faced by my family and my community weigh heavily on my mind. As I try to navigate a way forward, I am determined to honor my father’s legacy. Like my father, I strive to be a voice for change. I miss him dearly, particularly when I encounter discrimination, face adversity, or hear hurtful words. Every morning, as I make my way to the centre where I work, I pass the cemetery where he rests. In those moments, I can almost feel his presence, as if he were urging me onward and praying fervently for our return to Myanmar — a dream he cherished deeply.

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