The Rohingya Tragedy, My Turn – Abbas Moloo
On a recent visit to New York, I meet up with Sohail Abdullah, a CAI trustee, and a longtime friend. We chat about ongoing projects and he invites me to join him on his next trip to audit some of CAI projects, projects in Philippines and Bangladesh. My curiosity peaks, as I am always interested to learn about other communities; the Philippines and the plight of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh sound interesting. I ponder over the possibility of joining and a few days later I call to tell him I’m in; I’m looking forward to the trip.
Our meeting point is in Manila where we spend four days visiting some of the projects sponsored by CAI. I learn a bit about the 15 million minority tribes living in the Philippines. Out of the 80 tribes in the country, the Muslim community comprises of 13 tribes, some of them with their own dialects. Manila is a large urban metropolitan city overrun by McDonald’s and Jollibee fast-food chain restaurants in every corner of the city. The Pilipino people are very kind, generous, hospitable and very welcoming.
I have lost track of what day it is and am excited for the next part of our journey as we proceed to go to Dhaka. We arrive in Dhaka late at night but the streets are busy like it’s daytime rush hour traffic; it makes Mumbai traffic look good. We spend a night near the airport so we can catch the early morning flight to Cox’s Bazaar. The next day we take off to Cox’s Bazaar without any hassle and are picked up at the airport by Kausar who is a key partner of CAI on the ground. The road from the airport to the refugee camp is very serene and beautiful, lined with palm trees along the ocean shore. I see some hawkers selling coconut water (madafus) along the way, which reminds me of my childhood days growing up in Africa. So, we stop and drink some sweet coconut water. By comparison, they are not like the ones I’ve had at the Lighthouse in Mombasa, Kenya. After about two hours, we arrive at our destination at the sprawling refugee camp.
We are to stay at this CAI constructed two-bedroom three-classroom / hall structure for the next two days. It appears to be the only semi-permanent structure in the area. There are three classrooms and a large hall that are used to educate the 140 orphans supported by CAI donors and the two bedrooms are available for the administrators/visitors. In the kitchen, Amajee is preparing our lunch meal and I can smell the aroma of fried fish – African style. I go to the kitchen to take a peek and it reminds me of my mother’s cooking; I become hungry. I have heard that the Bengalis are great cooks and fish is their specialty dish; I verify this fact. We say our afternoon prayers and later have a sit down with Kausar, who gives a complete update on the recent Ramadhan food distribution. We get to see a sample of the food package that was distributed to the refugees. Kausar further explains to us all the rules and regulations set forth by the Bangladesh government to provide aid to the refugees. We are then served lunch and it is by far the best lunch I have eaten, surely beyond my expectations.
After lunch, we head out to take a walk through the refugee camp and see some of the water projects sponsored by CAI. As we start walking I am informed that this refugee camp was an elephant reserve inhabited by about 70 elephants. I can only imagine the serene environment it used to be prior to the influx of the refugees. As we walk along the maze of the temporarily constructed shanties made of straw and tarp, I get to see how these unfortunate people have to survive in the undignified environment. We finally stop by one of the water wells sponsored by CAI. This structure stands out from the rest of the water sources in the camp. I can see it is sturdy and has been built to last.
Kausar explains to us the weekly maintenance requirements that he undertakes, which includes cleaning the tank and making sure that it can be used for human consumption. The pipes coming out of the tank are distributed to various areas of the camp and serve about 19,000 refugees. There is a person at every station where the water supply ends who monitors the distribution of the water so that it is not misused, hence, it is evenly distributed.
As we walk to see other hand pumps along the way, half of which are non-functional. Apparently, a number of NGOs come and build these, took pictures of their accomplishments and returned home, not to return back. With no supervisions of these projects, these pumps eventually stop working and there is no one to maintain them. During the beginning of this crisis, there were 145 NGOs who came out to help and now, a year later, there are only 40 or so left.
The following morning at the crack of dawn, CAI sponsored orphans start coming in to school. Their day starts off with 30 minutes of TV entertainment followed by breakfast and then classes. They are taught English, Math, Burmese language, and Quran. I have not seen students who are so eager and happy to go be at school. I can sense their excitement in their faces. After all, there is not much these innocents have to look forward to, is there? There are thousands of orphan students who would like to attend school but only 140 can be accommodated at this school due to limited space and financial resources.
After breakfast, we head off to the campsites. As I walk through the narrow alleys between the shanty shelters, I take a peek at some of the hovels, and I see people reciting the Quran. I immediately get a sense of peace of mind by just looking at them and their strong faith in Allah. As I walk further inside, I see some schools run by the sheiks teaching Quran as part of a broader curriculum to the kids. I am informed by the guide that the authorities in Myanmar made it illegal to carry a Quran, liable for arrest. Despite the challenges, the Rohingya people learn Quran from Qaris that have memorized it and then teach it to the Rohingya kids.
We return back to the school to meet with the leaders of another local NGO who are interested in partnering with CAI. This NGO primarily provides the refugees with psychosocial therapy by incorporating theater in their therapy. I found this to be such a unique concept. They show us their work and request CAI to collaborate with them by building water wells in different areas of the camp whereby they provide these services but do not have a water supply nearby. They leave us with the thought process for the upcoming water projects CAI is contemplating for easing the pain of 25,000 more refugees.
Nightmare Turns Into Reality
My greatest nightmare and fear become reality a few days ago. Ghazni, a few hours’ drive from Kabul, Afghanistan is where CAI donors care for 50 poor boy orphans train for a better and productive future. They are taken care of 24 x 7 and given an opportunity towards a quality education. The road between Kabul and Ghazni is so dangerous that none of the CAI Trustees who visit Afghanistan for compliance have yet to visit the orphanage there.
The Taliban entered Ghanzni a week from the date you get this Blog and took over the city, making their presence felt in the neighborhood where the orphanage facility is located. The Manager timed it just right and had the children evacuated to their mother’s care as soon as the news of conflict spread like a summer sandstorm through Ghazni. There is carnage and mayhem in Ghazni at the moment, with hundreds killed, maimed and property destroyed. My biggest trauma was not being able to contact the staff as the assault progressed.
Alhamd’Allah all boys and the staff are safe, if not scarred by the incident and hungry, for the food situation is and remains dicey. I am unsure when CAI will be able to resume regular services, even as news filters in that the government is now slowly gaining the upper hand. I request your continued prayers and good wishes for the traumatized boys and their safety, and the safety of CAI property.
These incidents highlight the precarious nature of CAI’s services in countries to those that need the most care. It is a risk we take, yes. Yet, folding our hands to our chest, feeling pity and clicking our tongues in sympathy is not an option, is it?
May Allah protect and guide us in His service.