This story was collected in Bangladesh by interpreter and photographer Nihab Rahman.
August 25th, 2019 marks the two-year anniversary of the Rohingya refugee influx into Bangladesh. Throughout this month we are reflecting on the tenacity of Rohingya refugees. We commemorate their courage in fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar. Since Medical Teams began operating in Kutupalong Refugee Camp in 2017, we have heard countless stories of people who endured unimaginable hardships – stories like Morjan’s.
A Narrow Escape
Morjan escaped to Bangladesh with ten family members. Her family desperately wanted to stay in their home in Myanmar, but when the military descended on their village, shooting at people and burning everything in sight, they had to leave.
“We had no choice – they left us no options. They were chopping necks. They were raping women. We had to leave.”
They ran. With at least a thousand other village members they fled to a heavily-forested hill nearby. They were hoping to hide until the horrors stopped. Morjan’s heart sank when she realized they had been caught. The militia screamed at them to get down or they would be killed. “Then they rushed toward us and started shooting. Many were killed that day. Some of us were lucky enough to escape.”
With nothing but the clothes on their back and a small bit of food, they journeyed on foot to the border. For four days, they feared for their lives with every step. The terror Morjan faced continued when she reached the border.
“There must have been over 10,000 people waiting at the border. And even when we arrived, we weren’t safe. They were killing and arresting people. I was so worried–I thought, I am in hell. What can we do? We were so afraid for our lives.”
Morjan huddled close with her family and for three agonizing days they waited. Finally it was their turn on the boat. With no money to pay for the boat ride Morjan offered her jewelry, “I handed them my gold earrings…most of us women had to do this. We had nothing else. The boatmen were taking anything of value. Earrings, rings, bracelets.” While waiting for the boat more and more people arrived.
“I was always thinking, look at all these people. Many of them are my neighbors and friends. We are all facing this.”
Life in the Refugee Camp
When Morjan arrived at the refugee camp after several physically and emotionally exhausting days, she was deeply saddened. Her thoughts flashed back to her home in Myanmar where she had 14 cows, several buffaloes and green pastures to explore. There, she worked with another organization and had dreams of attending university and working to help her people. “When I saw the refugee camp for the first time, I thought, how can I live here?”
Morjan has adjusted to her life in the camp as best as one can. She is grateful that her family survived and is with her. When a community leader asked Morjan if she would be interested in working as a community health worker for Medical Teams International, she jumped at the chance.
Finding Fulfillment and Purpose
As a Community Health Worker, Morjan meets with an average of 15 households a day to discuss critical health topics.
“I enjoy working with Medical Teams very much. My favorite thing to teach is hygiene education. The main problem here is keeping water safe, so the aquatabs that Medical Teams gives out are one of the most important things I tell people about. Most of the refugees are afraid when they see how the tabs make the water bubble and foam – they think it is poison – but then I get to explain that it’s actually cleaning the water, and how necessary it is that we use them.”
Morjan also trains people on hand washing, understanding symptoms of measles and other infectious diseases like diphtheria, and when to visit the clinic for fevers and other illnesses. Because most of the Rohingya had never received proper medical care in Myanmar, they are particularly vulnerable. The education that Morjan and the other community health workers provide is serving as a lifeline to those living in the camp.
Morjan feels a sense of fulfillment and purpose as a health worker, and shares that most of her Rohingya neighbors appreciate the information and want to know more. When she isn’t staying busy training and serving her community, she longs for the beauty of her homeland, mostly at night when she is laying down to sleep.
“We all want to go home… every single one of us. But if they will kill us again, we cannot. We don’t want any of the money back they took or things we lost. We just want our country back.”
Send a gift today to help provide life-saving medical care for Rohingya refugees and support community health workers like Morjan.