Refuse to Lose Hope

by Feb 2, 2020

It’s been hard knowing what to write.

I finished the second week of training in Bangladesh but this time with the Rohingya students who came directly from the refugee camps.  I wish I could write about the unwavering hope I have and tie this blog post up with a pretty bow so people won’t feel too uncomfortable but I just can’t. I don’t know how to process things I’ve heard this past week and situations I’ve seen and experienced. The camps are getting worse. The conditions are even more inhumane. I didn’t think that was possible. The constant fear these kids are living in is getting more intense and more out of control. These past few weeks have been way harder than before. Is it because I know and love these kids more each time? Because they’re opening up to me more? Or because it’s just getting worse for them. Maybe all of the above. I’m feeling angry, heartbroken, frustrated, helpless and determined. It’s left me pretty frozen to be honest. I’m heading to Myanmar tomorrow though so I need to put these past few weeks in a box so I can focus on this next phase of the trip. I promise to take time to process when I get home…I give you all permission to keep me accountable to that!

But for now, I want to share with you the story of one of the students. He’s 15 years old and lights up any room he’s in. His father died as their family was fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh and since he is the oldest son he has had to take on the role of providing for his family since a very young age. He lives in the refugee camp which means they have to solely rely on food and water rations handed out. It is never enough. He typically only eats once a day and showers once a week to ensure his family has enough. He loves to hang with his friends, read books about space and the human body and play Cricket. Which, for the record, is a very confusing sport. He tried to teach me the rules everyday as we fake played in a classroom but I never quite caught on…seeing his enthusiasm and passion for it though convinced me it must be a pretty cool sport.  He also loves to learn. The Bangladesh government used to allow Rohingya refugees to attend school but made it illegal since 2017. This brave and determined 15 year old now sneaks out of his house before sunrise, wearing a mask, and trekking the long way through the forest to get to school every single day praying he won’t get caught. He said his Bangladesh teacher is incredible and lets him still come in secret. He is truly risking his life everyday just so he can keep learning. He got caught once and shared with me what the guards did to him as punishment. It’s awful and enough to keep anyone from risking it again but for him…it is still worth it. I can’t even imagine. His dream is to become a doctor. He is seriously so brilliant and I have no doubt that he would make an excellent doctor.

But the reality is, unless something changes drastically and politically, there is no way he will be able to.

He has no citizenship, no ID, no passport and is forbidden by the government to attend high school let alone university.

The UN doesn’t recognize him as a refugee since he is not registered, but can’t get registered because he has no ID. It’s an endless circle the ultimately results in him being trapped in that camp with no options.

This is what keeps me awake at night. Thinking about this boy with the most contagious smile, ambition unlike anything I’ve ever seen and a heart so warm, kind and selfless. This boy who had tears streaming down his cheeks as he tells me about everyday camp life. This boy who is always helping his classmates, being a loyal friend and always bringing a smile to everyone’s face. This  boy who has big dreams and wants to make this world a better place. This boy who might not get any chance of a future and is constantly being suppressed. This boy who refuses to give up hope.

There must be a way we can help. There must be a way to make a difference and give him and everyone else a chance at a future.  At the very least be able to live with basic human rights. I can’t do this alone, I don’t know what the next steps are but I know there must be something. Let’s pray, brainstorm and create change together. Let’s meet for coffee when I get home, strategize, bring awareness and maybe even get our government involved?

Let’s choose to have hope. 

We can’t give up.

Janelle Tarnow