Three years ago this week, that is exactly what hundreds of thousands of traumatized Rohingya had to do.
Yet even as I write this, I’m aware that too many refugee stories focus on trauma and escape. Too often in the public consciousness, a refugee is a vulnerable, helpless person fleeing violence and in desperate need of rescue. That is an incomplete telling of the story and further injustice to its protagonists. While refugees do in fact need protection, they are defined far less by their status as beneficiaries of care than by their unfathomable courage, resilience, and desire for self-reliance.
Before the pandemic, she took part in a cross-generational volunteer program –half of which is comprised of girls and women- to provide health support, including pre- and post-natal care for women and infants in the camp. But in recent months, she has shifted her responsibilities to the Covid-19 response. Joined by more than 1,400 others, Salma now promotes hand washing and hygiene. She educates the community on how the virus spreads, how to recognize symptoms and seek care, as well as ensuring that those who show symptoms are tested.
I am moved and inspired by the resilience of the Rohingya refugees. They are survivors. They escaped unspeakable horrors, made the long, painful journey to Bangladesh, and overcame the many hardships of life in the camps. They continue to show strength in maintaining hope and a commitment to going home again, against all odds. And now, each day, beneath the shadow of a pandemic, they are working, leading, healing, and challenging our idea of “who a refugee is.”