Upon lifting my eyes, I caught my first glimpses of a Rohingya Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp. There was movement. A lot of it. We were right in the middle of what seemed to be town square. I wondered about these people. Who were they? Where were they all headed? What had they been through? Why did they all look so…skinny and defeated? Over the next few days, I found out why.
My team and I spent time with the people living in this camp. The following is one of their stories.
This boy is Rohingya.
This means he belongs to an ethnic group in Myanmar that for generations has slowly and deliberately had their rights robbed from them. Today and since things hit the fan politically in 2012 when they were rounded up humiliatingly marched out of the city, 140,000 Rohingya people are being forcibly confined to a 5 square-mile flood plain on the Western coast of Myanmar. Each family is allotted a 10ft by 10ft room to live in. So, by typical Western standards, this young man, his 7 older siblings, and their parents all shared a room the size of a spare bedroom.
The Rohingya people have been stripped of their Burmese citizenship and therefore have very few options. Leaving is prohibited, but they surely will not survive much longer in the present conditions. The children are not allowed to attend school, and it is nearly impossible to find work. Many families are given food rations from the government, but it is not enough to sustain them. They are being starved, and the government is blocking most foreign aid attempts.
So, feeling hopeless and caged, this young man had no other option but to wittingly entrust his safety and future into the hands of traffickers in an attempt to find work elsewhere and eventually save his family.
The remarkable women above are the mothers of the men who fled. I had the devastating honor of hearing them recount the story of their sons.
The last time they heard from their sons was a call from Bangladesh. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll call you from Malaysia in 8 days.”
But the call never came.
Some survivors have come forward to say there had been a squabble between traffickers and most of the 300 refugees aboard had abandoned ship fearing for their safety. Perhaps their boys were among those. In that case, they either drowned or were picked up by a fishing boat (neither a good option). Alternatively, the women speculated that perhaps they had made it to Malaysia and were now imprisoned. Wherever they are, they have not yet been able to make contact.
I can’t even begin to imagine their heart ache. They may never know what happened to their sons. In this case, the agony of the unknown is undoubtedly more burdensome than would be the heartbreak of confirmed death.
I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but these women are unfortunately not alone in their grief. Everyone we talked to knows someone who has attempted to flee in this way.
At the end of the first day of interviewing, I told a friend I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. To this she replied, “It’s okay to just lie in the road for a while. It’s good to let the truck hit you.”
How can I even attempt to fight for justice for the Rohingyas if I am not willing to be broken by their experiences? If I don’t expose myself to the harsh realities so many endure on a daily basis, opportunities to demand dignity are missed.
As I sat with these women and listened to the horrors they’ve experienced, tears streamed down my face. I wanted nothing more than to jump in a boat and scour every inch of the Bay of Bengal in pursuit of their sons. More reasonably, I experienced a solidified commitment to help them pursue peace in their lives.
So here I am. Lying in the road. Allowing myself to be shattered along side the Rohingya people. My new friends.
I am committed to joining the Rohingya in their fight for dignity and freedom, and I couldn’t do it without your loving support. Your encouraging messages, phone calls, prayers, warm fuzzies, financial contributions, and occasional care packages full of deodorant and toothpaste (you know who you are) are sustaining these efforts. We are a team, and we are all a vital part of the positive change that is occurring in Myanmar. So, thank you, thank you, thank you!
What are we doing to help the Rohingya, you ask? Well, click HERE to find out! There you’ll also discover more ways you can be a part of changing the seemingly hopeless narrative for the Rohingya.
As always, don’t be shy! I want to hear about you! So, drop me a message and fill me in. I’m on the other side of the world, people! I need updates!