As salamu Alaykum,
On Thursday 20th June 2019, by the Grace of Allah Ta’ala, the Jamiatul Ulama KZN Relief Team embarked on a trip to Bangladesh to distribute hampers and sewing machines earmarked for the Rohingyan Refugees. The team arrived at Cox’s Bazaar airport on Friday evening.
Saturday morning at 8:00am, with temperatures already soaring over 30°C, the team set off on our first visit to the refugee camps. As part of Project H.E.L.P we often see and experience a fair amount of poverty and distress within our own community, but none of it prepared us for the plight of despair and hopelessness that we witnessed amongst our Muslim brethren of Rohingya. The scale and magnitude of the 1.4 million refugees living in such abject poverty was absolutely heart-breaking. From amongst the four team members on this trip, it was a first for two of us making it a huge learning curve and a unique experience.
Enroute to the first camp, we stopped by an area which housed approximately 20 widows and a recently established masjid. Their homes were basically a 3×3 metre dwelling made out of bamboo and grass, with a mattress fashioned from a nylon sack and a pillow made out of bundled cloth. The pit toilets did not even have a door.
Our journey continued for another hour till we reached Jamtali Camp. Alhamdulillah, the team managed to distribute approximately 500 hampers that day.
On Sunday morning, which turned into another blistering hot day, we decided to split up into two teams. While Team Two returned to Jamtali Camp to distribute the balance of the 500 Hampers, Team One visited the Thiankali Camp. Here they distributed 2020 Hampers and 25 sewing machines. That afternoon after the distribution we detoured and visited Ground Zero Site. This is where the Rohingya refugees cross over the Naf River from Burma into Bangladesh.
Over the next two days we continued with distribution and meeting with the refugees. They were mostly in awe, having rarely seen people from Africa before. In fact some were unaware of a country called South Africa. Communication seemed to be a huge hurdle as neither did we or the Burmese share a common language, nor did any of the army personnel speak proper English, Urdu or Hindi. Despite the language barrier, the gratitude for the meagre supplies and machinery was overwhelming and they certainly appreciated every little gesture of aid extended to them. This was no longer a cause for brethren of the same religion or ethnicity, rather it was a cause in the name of humanity because here were a people stripped of their identity and dignity, displaced and struggling to barely survive due to no fault of their own but rather due to our inability as humans to protect the rights of fellow human beings.
While world aid continues to dribble in from various local and international organisations, it still falls short. The supplies they receive are inadequate to meet their nutritional needs and healthcare is far and few between. Without documentation, the people of Rohingya will remain deprived of the ability to be self-sustaining, to earn a living or forge a way out of this horror that remains etched in their lives. The desolation can clearly be seen on their faces. Besides the common health problems that come from housing 1.4 million people in a very confined space such as diarrhoea and malnutrition, depression seems to have set in deeply amongst them as they are forced to accept their bleak future. Morale is low amongst the refugees which consist mainly of very old men, women and children. At best, the plight of the Rohingya refugees is extremely bleak due to their rights being denied and the threat of genocide if they return to their homeland. Thus they remain in limbo, neither here nor there, while their fate remains undecided by the powers that be.
Soon we were flying back and the settling into the comforts of home. It almost feels as if the mission to Rohingya was part of an alternate reality. How could we be so isolated from the very real and the very difficult circumstances of people who at one point were just like us, living their daily lives, having supper with their families, unaware that their lives will be uprooted in such a devastating way? It shook us to the core and left us with a new outlook and greater appreciation for all that we are blessed with.
Bilall Jeewa (Project H.E.L.P Coordinator)