The Haunting Eyes Of Abandonment
I have recently returned from a heart-searing trip through Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh to meet with the abandoned and forgotten Rohingya refugees. It was painful. And the trip through upper/lower Sindh, Pakistan, to inspect some of the homes Comfort Aid International (USA) donors have paid to rebuild was equally sore.
The Rohingya are probably the most repressed people on earth today. I cannot equate their plight to any other group of humans from my lifetime. About one million of them live in absolute squalor about two hours crazy drive from Cox’s Bazar. Ousted from their land, persecuted, killed, raped, plundered, and now abandoned. By all.
They are not allowed to work, go to mainstream schools, trade, or earn money outside of a barbed wire that keeps them imprisoned in squalor. They depend on food handouts from the UN or NGOs to survive. The UN used to provide US$20 worth of food per person per month; now it is US$10. I’ve just read a report they want to cut it further to US$8. I believe a gourmet cup of Starbucks in the US costs US$5?
Filthy children, barefoot and sometimes buck naked, roam the littered and grimy alleys of the camps. Their mothers are hidden away in flimsy bamboo structures with no water or power; a woman’s place is home or under an oppressive purdah in this conservative society – the temperature hovers at about 95°F.
These hapless people have no chance of making Bangladesh their home, nor any hope of returning home to Myanmar (Burma) without certain elimination by the Junta there. It is a hopeless and painful situation.
I see this pain in the haunting eyes and gaunt faces of these hapless people. They sit on charpoys under a shade of a tree or an airless shed, whiling away their lives, gnawing on beetle nuts – a cheap intoxicant, rotting their teeth, sullying their mouths, and their already highly polluted environment. Away from the mainstream media, they are forgotten, oppressed people, relegated to rot away their future and progeny.
Within this helplessness and despair, CAI has been running a day school for 120 orphans since 2018, providing nutritious breakfast and a hot meal six days a week. All other necessities in life are also provided, especially quality education up to grade five. CAI donors also pay for the pumping of potable water to about 40,000 of these refugees any time of the day.
I see this same despair and helplessness in the eyes of the flood victims when I go visit them in upper and lower Sindh, Pakistan. The women are not hidden here, but they might as well be. They look scruffy and thin, nursing agonizingly filthy children covered with frenzied flies. It is astonishingly difficult for me not to openly flinch from the filth surrounding me, from the open sewers, the cow dung that litters the pathways, and the incessant flies that torment me. Again, the eyes of these victims, women mostly, haunt me afterward – eyes that have no feeling. These people are not beggars. They were farmers with land and crops and animals, all swept away by the wrath of nature. Now that the floods have receded and are no longer covered by the mainstream media, they, too, have been abandoned. By all.
CAI donors have built 95 of the 140 one-bedroom homes committed for some of these victims – there are simply too many. CAI donors also sponsored 113 marriages put on hold because the girls lost all their trousseau in the floods. Additionally, 37 girl students, who have excelled in their studies in the past semester have been provided scholarships for 75% of their tuition fees. This grant will continue as long as they maintain their premium grade status.
The following clip might capture some of the emotions I experienced:
I have been through many gut-wrenching spots in my life and CAI travels, and these two are some of the saddest. May Allah have mercy on them.
My novels help pay for the education of about 950 worldwide CAI orphans; I make no money from the sale proceeds. My next novel, Two Blue And Gold Diamond Earrings, will be published in September 2023.
Click HERE for a few excerpts from the novel – perhaps you will purchase a copy or two or more? Priced at a modest US$77, one book will pay for about 3 months of a poor orphan’s education. Please click HERE to buy. 1,157 print copies already purchased/pledged – Allah bless.