Redwan lived in a small village in Myanmar with his wife, two children and extended family. On a quiet morning in 2017, they heard gunshots nearby and ran out of their home to witness a slaughter. The entire village — 700 people — fled to a lush hill to take cover from the attack. Redwan and his family stayed hidden throughout the night, watching and waiting to see if the militants would leave.
By morning it looked safe, so Redwan and a few others went back down to the village to grab essentials. That was when the militants launched their second attack — raining down bullets on the hill where the community was hidden. Horrified, Redwan received a frantic call from his wife that his father had been shot. Forced with an impossible decision, Redwan told her to run with his mother and their children to the border of Bangladesh. Once the gunshots stopped, he went back to the hill and found his father, still bleeding from the wound in his shoulder, but thankfully alive. Redwan carried him down to the village and administered first aid in what he hoped was a safe hiding place.
The next morning they awoke to 300 soldiers surrounding the village.
“We ran and hid in a chicken coup. But, as the gunshots got closer, we realized they were burning the entire village – we weren’t safe. So, we found a latrine wide enough and snuck down inside. The waste was up to my neck and it was freezing. The soldiers tried to burn down the latrine without knowing we were inside, but it wouldn’t light on fire. My brother and his father-in-law were hiding in the forest close to us and from the latrine we saw them get killed. We stayed in there for eleven and a half hours before it was finally safe to come out.”
Once Redwan and his father made it out of the latrine, they fled to Bangladesh. They walked six days before reaching the border, Redwan carrying his father who was too weak on his own – reuniting with his mother, wife and children in a village on the way. Redwan spent his entire life savings on passage across the Naf River. When they finally arrived in the Rohingya refugee camp, Redwan was shocked — he hadn’t realized the attacks had been happening beyond his own village. He couldn’t comprehend that all the Rohingya people in Myanmar were fleeing for their lives.
After such a long and harrowing journey, Redwan’s two-year-old son and five-month-old daughter fell ill. He brought them all — along with his injured and traumatized father — to a Medical Teams International clinic to receive urgent treatment.
“At first I didn’t think anyone would help us in the camp. How would we get food and health services? But, we’re happy because all of this was provided. We never had access to services like [this] clinic in Burma.”
Life-saving services weren’t the only thing Redwan gained access to at our clinics. He also found purpose. Through his visits to the medical clinic, Redwan was introduced to our Community Health Worker program — a vast network of trained volunteers equipped and empowered to reach out to their fellow refugees and teach them about health and sanitation and help them access the medical care their family needs. Back in his village in Myanmar, Redwan had held classes at his home for children in the community, so he was compelled by the opportunity to teach people about proper hygiene and learn how to spot diseases.
Redwan’s desire to become a Community Health Worker paid off quickly. Just 10 days after he finished his training, Redwan’s children started showing symptoms of diphtheria, a deadly disease spreading throughout the refugee camp. He immediately recognized the signs of the disease and brought his children to the nearest Medical Teams clinic where they received life-saving medication and made a full recovery. Redwan didn’t stop there — he then went to each of his neighbor’s homes to make sure everyone was healthy. In the process, he referred nine more positive diphtheria cases for treatment.
“I’m proud because I’ve received so many trainings – about diarrhea, measles and diphtheria. It feels so good to have these trainings and to refer people who are so sick so they have the opportunity to get better.”
Redwan’s role as a Community Health Worker allows him to have a positive outlook about living in the camp and gives him the opportunity to care for his own people in an impactful way. “Sometimes I worry about all the things I had to leave behind, but then I look around and I’m happy to live in community with other refugees. I’m happier than I ever was in Burma because I get to be involved in such important work.”
Two years after completing his training as a Community Health Worker, Redwan is more valuable to the team than ever. He is a dedicated face in the Medical Teams clinic — filling many roles wherever and whenever he is needed. Whether he’s registering patients who arrive at the clinic, educating people in the waiting room about diseases and sanitation, making and distributing oral rehydration solution to people waiting for the doctor, or helping to physically carry critical patients to a nearby hospital, Redwan is an essential member of our team.
“Now I know how to work as a humanitarian. I know how to comfort people and I want to continue to do this my whole life. As a Community Health Worker I am helping families and it makes me proud,” says Redwan.
Physical pain isn’t the only thing addressed at the Medical Teams clinics. We also focus on healing emotional pain. For Redwan and his family, that is what has had the biggest impact in the years since they fled Myanmar. For Redwan’s father who arrived with a gunshot wound, unable to walk or speak, the loving care he receives is helping him to recover from the trauma of watching his son murdered. He can walk now, is monitored and treated for high blood pressure and receives counseling to help him cope with depression.
As for Redwan, he’s found a way to honor his brother’s legacy. Back in Myanmar, Redwan’s brother had run the pharmacy in their village. Because he learned so much about medicines and health care from his brother, Redwan can now provide added support — explaining medications to patients when the clinic pharmacist is busy. He feels proud to continue his brother’s life work in a place they never dreamed they’d be living.
Photos courtesy of Nihab Rahman.
You can support the efforts of Community Health Workers like Redwan with a gift to help Rohingya refugees.