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  • Writer's pictureAhtaram Shin

Guided by the light of her ancestors: The story of Umme Habiba

Updated: Jun 6

2023 © Umme Salma

Umme Habiba, born in Myanmar to a family of three, cherishes a memory from her father, a Rohingya fisherman. His prized possession was a serak (kerosene lamp) inherited from his grandfather. Amid the 2017 conflict and ensuing brutality, Umme Habiba’s family fled Buthidaung township for Bangladesh. Her father, realising he'd left the lamp behind, was distraught, as it held immense sentimental value.

"He once told me that the lamp was a beacon in life's darkest moments. Echoing his grandmother's wisdom, after his passing, I kept the lamp close, drawing comfort and guidance from its light.’ Umme.

Now living in a refugee camp, facing daily hardships and an uncertain future, Umme Habiba relies on her father's advice for strength. The lamp, a symbol of resilience, reminds her of the guidance it provided her father during his night fishing in Myanmar.

Watch below Umme Salma's video where she explains further about herself and the meaning of her photograph.

Umme Salma is a young Rohingya social worker who was born in 2003 in the village of Thin Ga Net in Buthidaung township. She is the first daughter in her family with two brothers and two sisters. Her parents are well-educated; her father is a village doctor and primary teacher, while her mother is a social society activist and humanitarian worker.


‘I am really grateful to my parents for raising us uniquely despite the fact that they encountered many complications, including traumatic experiences, several decades and awful cruelties committed by Myanmar authorities against them. In the systematic genocidal act of the Myanmar government against the Rohingya in 2017, my paternal uncle and maternal uncle were shot and cut into pieces by the military while crossing the Naf River in an attempt to save their lives.’ Umme.

Umme Salma was unable to complete her studies in Myanmar, but she managed to continue her higher education at Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong from 2022. She also completed a diploma in sociology at Elon University online. Umme Salma worked as a peace-builder and community research volunteer at BRAC University. She attended photography and storyteller training at WFP, and her interest lies in photography and storytelling within the Rohingya community. Umme Salma's photograph was selected in Oxfam's Arts competition in 2021.

When Umme Salma saw the challenges faced by vulnerable Rohingya women and their eagerness to learn and create artwork, she formed the community-based organisation name Literature and Handicrafts for Rohingya Women (LHRW) to empower and build women capacity. They have trained women in various artworks such as embroidery, sewing, and tailoring. Now these women have generated livelihood and built professional skills. Similarly, LHRW has continued to train and teach adolescent girls till now.

‘Although I have a passion for photography, I had to pause it for a few months due to organisational tasks and my studies. I know that I am a skilful photographer and can showcase the situation of my community facing multiple challenges in the camps. As a result, I intend to engage in more advocacy and bring about change. I believe photography and documentation are essential parts of advocacy, and I pursue them enthusiastically.’ Umme.


Umme Salma is a fellow photographer of Rohingyatographer Magazine. Guided by her inner light, she has recently re-settled in Canada.


This feature is part of The Rohingya Experience, an exhibition in St Helier, Island of Jersey during July 2024, developed by Rohingyatographer, a collective of Rohingya refugee photographers in partnership with Jersey Overseas Aid.



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