‘Five years ago my heart and mind pushed me to come and meet the Rohingya face to face’
Updated: Aug 3
By Dr. Claudia A Álvarez & Dr. Franklyn Rocha Cabrero
Five years ago I learned about the humanitarian crisis the Rohingya were facing.
If you remember hearing about the Rohingya, they are a small ethnic minority Muslim group who resided in Myanmar (Burma). In 2017, their and their camps went under attack by extremist local groups and the Burmese military. It was a horrific form of ethnics cleansing. The Burmese did not want to recognize Rohingya as citizens. Violence and the most hideous crimes against the Rohingya took place. So they fled to their neighbor country of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh they’ve lived in a refugee camp where they are not allowed to leave. They also don’t want to give the Rohingya citizenship.
This is our stop – Bangladesh, where we will care and volunteer with one of the non-profit medical clinics that serve the Rohingya inside the camps. Five years ago my heart and mind pushed me to come and meet the Rohingya face to face, hear their stories, and assist them with their medical needs to the best capacity.
I am honored and blessed to have arrived in Bangladesh to fulfill one of my long awaited dreams and I am so thankful that my husband Fran Tron Rocha is coming with me.
If you haven’t heard of the Rohingya, here is a video explaining their history and plight.
On our Day 1 of arrival to Dhaka – the Bangladesh capital, we were treated like family by the staff from the partner nonprofit organizations we are volunteering with. I am so pleased to say that Bangladeshi nonprofits have collaborated to bring various services to the Rohingya camps including: water and sanitation services, education and schools, gender-based violence education, housing and shelter, mental health services and medical care. They achieved this by partnering with other nonprofit organizations and through various sources for funding.
But the very best portion of the day was visiting the orphanage from DreamHomes Uttara, where the children dedicated an homage to Fran Tron Rcha and I. The children were extremely kind, respectful, and talented. May God bless the children and the adults who dedicate their lives to their upbringing.
On Day 2 in Bangladesh we traveled to Cox’s Bazar, the district where the Rohingya refugee camps are built. We spent the afternoon with the Turkish Red Crescent that operates at one of the camps. There are approx. 32 Rohingya camps around Cox Bazar and space is around 3000 acres.
We were extremely pleased to meet the doctor at the Red Crescent site. He’s a Bangladeshi doctor who has been working at the camp for 2 years. We almost met their pharmacist, medical assistants, and nurses. They have a delivery room, a triage room, and for post parturition care. After the clinic, we wandered around the Rohingya camp. Their houses are made of bamboo thanks to the aid of NGOs, such as the ones Humanity Auxilium supports, such as Janoseba Kendra. The Government of Bangladesh does not want them to build houses with permanent material.
There are some rumors their plan is to repatriate the refugees back to Myanmar, which would be their death sentence. InshAllah (God willing) this does not happen and the Rohingya can integrate into society.
On Day 3 in Bangladesh we traveled to a small rural area from Cox’s Bazar called ShatMara MaheshkhAli. Humanity Auxillium partners with AWARD and they also serve the indigent community in Bangladesh.
On that Friday, a Muslim holiday like our Saturday or Sunday, we witnessed the HARD work the doctors, nurses, and personnel working for the NGOs partake. It was a free health fair where between 2 doctors (one man, one woman) they saw 306 patients! We mostly sat with the doctors and shadowed while they did some interpreting for us and summarized the case to us (with patients’ consent).
It was a hot and long day but so worth it!
Afterwards, one of the community leaders invited us to their home and served us delicious local food. I met the women in their family, including a beautiful elder woman, and they agreed to take pictures with me.
The kids were staring at me and trying to make conversation with me – giggling at times. I would try to get close but they would always keep a distance. They were so funny, sweet, and cute. In the end, some got excited taking selfies with my phone.
There’s nothing like the people in Bangladesh and their hospitality.
I’m so honored to witness the hard working Bangladeshi doctors, nurses, pharmacists and administrative supportive staff reaching out to their rural communities to assess patients' healthcare needs.
On Day 4 we went to two of the medical clinics in the Rohingya camps: Camp 15 and 16.
At Camp 15, there are two doctors (one male and female) who see patients regularly: walk-in complaints, but also with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
Camp 16 was my favorite. It's a 24 hour, 7 days a week comprehensive medical clinic. They have a women's ward for pregnant women giving birth, a procedure room for injuries and accidents, a laboratory for blood work, a pharmacy, a psychologist room, an Ultrasound room, a male ward room for men who need inpatient hospitalization, and a vaccination room – I even vaccinated kids with COVID vaccines!
Praise be to God for these healthcare workers.
I’d like to share the story of sister Sok… who asked us to share her story. She is from Myanmar. She witnessed her husband being shot and killed by the Myanmar military. They later threw his body to be burned. She had to escape with her 3 children and cross the border to Bangladesh. They didn’t have food for 2 days while staying in the jungle once they crossed. They endured a lot of hardships and she still has nightmares from her past trauma in Myanmar.
We learned about her case after she had her THERAPY session with one of the ultra dedicated psychologists that works at the camp. The NGOs in Rohingya camp understand the trauma the community has endured so they provide mental health services through dedicated psychologists.
May God bless them for their service!
Day 5 was one of the best days for us. We went to visit a Learning Center for Rohingya children and a Women’s Center.
The Women's Center is a hub specifically for the Rohingya women who have gone through trauma, have endured hardships during their migration, are becoming new mothers under extraneous circumstances in a refugee camp, and want to engage in learning new skills. They learn how to sow and design beautiful dresses, bedsheets, and other items.
The group is facilitated by the wonderful psychologists who work at the camps permanently. They are my inspiration.
The Learning Center was one of other highlights that day. There were children from ages 5-15 years old. Boys and girls. They learn English, MalAysian, mathematics, science, physical education, and various team activities like the ones they were performing in these photos. The Bangladesh government doesn’t let them learn the Bangladesh language of Bangla.
At the end of the session we had fun playing with balloons and teaching them about our countries of Perú and Puerto Rico. The kids were very warm and welcoming and they will be the FUTURE and leaders of their new generation.