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  • Writer's pictureAhtaram Shin

The Struggle for Education: The Unfulfilled Dreams of Rohingya Students

Words by BZ Alom Bin Nur . Edited by Ahtaram Shin. Photo-essay curated by Ahtaram Shin and Ro BM Hairu

Photo by Sahat Zia Hero

Rohingya youth find themselves ensnared in an educational deadlock, their academic journey often halting at the secondary level within the confines of the camps. The aspiration for higher learning—a dream for many—remains elusive, barred by stringent restrictions that tether them to a cycle of unfulfilled potential.

The narrative of the Rohingya in Myanmar is a harrowing chronicle of systemic oppression, a saga that has seen over a million souls seeking refuge in Bangladesh. This exodus, driven by a campaign of persecution that verges on genocidal, has not spared the younger generation. Rohingya youths, in particular, confront a myriad of obstacles: educational limitations, career blockades, financial exploitation, and military brutality.

A pivotal moment in their educational disenfranchisement occurred circa 2000 when the Myanmar government systematically replaced Rohingya educators with those of Barma and Rakhine ethnicity. This switch introduced a formidable language barrier, as instruction was predominantly in Burmese. In response, educated Rohingya youths stepped into the breach, serving as guest teachers in their communities.

One such youth, Shammia, graduated with the major of mathematic from Sittwe University. Despite his qualifications, she was denied opportunities in government schools or the army. Instead, she taught in a private center in his village and volunteered in school.

"I had a dream to be an engineer but I did not pursue it due to the restrictions on education in Myanmar or to go abroad. Then I taught voluntarily in our village school in Taungphyo and in private centre," Shammia said.

Shammia and his contemporary, Md Ismail, shed light on the systemic inequities that mar their educational journey. Despite their qualifications, Rohingya teachers faced discrimination and limited career advancement, particularly within the humanitarian sector.

Both Shammia and Ismail emphasized the unequal treatment they faced compared to Rakhine students, both in Myanmar and in refugee camps. Despite their qualifications and experience, Rohingya teachers often received unfair treatment and no promotion in humanitarian agencies.

"I couldn't not learn effectively from Rakhine teachers in Myanmar. So, I learned from our Rohingya teachers in our village private centre. After fleeing here, I couldn't study further higher education and had to work as a volunteer in NGOs." Md Shaker, a 9th grade student said.

The path to education for most Rohingya children halts abruptly post-primary or middle school, hindered by sparse learning facilities and scant vocational prospects. UNHCR statistics reveal that over half of the Rohingya youth grapple with considerable hurdles in pursuing education and career advancement, a predicament that adversely affects their mental health and spurs thoughts of deserting the camps.

This neglect by the international community in facilitating access to education and career growth has unjustly cast the Rohingya as marginalized, devoid of prospects, and trapped in a cycle of poverty. Championing the rights of the Rohingya by opening doors to education and employment is critical, not just for their individual empowerment, but for enabling them to reconstruct their lives and make valuable contributions to their communities.

In the shadow of adversity, our photo-essay illuminates the resilience of Rohingya youth pursuing education. These images offer a window into their relentless pursuit of knowledge, capturing moments of determination and hope amidst challenging conditions. Through this visual narrative, we celebrate their spirit and underscore the importance of supporting their journey towards empowerment and a brighter future.

"My father, who is unable to perform heavy work due to illness, relies on my mother's efforts. She cultivates calabash and pumpkin vegetables on our shelter's roof, aiming to sell spinach and fruits to support our education," said Rofiq, 12 year Rohingya child from Bangladesh refugees camp. Photo By Ro BM Hairu

Under the cloak of the night sky, by the roadside, a Class 7 student from a Community-Led School within the Rohingya Camp becomes a beacon of knowledge for his peers. Gathered around him, friends listen intently as he recounts the lessons learned about the history of Arakan State, Myanmar, from his history teacher, transforming the night into a classroom without walls. Photo by Ro BM Hairu.

The anticipation before an exam is palpable, and for these three students, it's a moment of focused revision. Huddled together, they pore over crucial notes, preparing to step into the final exam hall at Bright Life Community High School, each moment charged with the promise of their efforts coming to fruition. Photo by @Ro Anuwar Sadek

Khairul Amin, 16, is a Rohingya student with engineering ambitions. Despite financial constraints, he manages his studies while working on a small farm to support his family. Photo by @Ro Anuwar Sadek

Rohingya children attend a camp learning center, acquiring basic education. Their return from school brings joy to their parents, witnessing their happiness. Photo by Nur moni

Dini Islam, a Rohingya student, lost everything in a recent fire at Camp-5. Undeterred, he's back on track to become a lawyer, self-studying with support from teachers and stationery. Determination lights his path, even in the absence of electricity. Photo by Ro Anuwar Sadek

Gratitude to UNICEF for empowering Rohingya refugee children with education in camps. Every child deserves the chance to learn and grow. Together, we can make a difference in their lives. Photo by Md Hossain.

In the advancement of globalization, the Rohingya remain beyond access to education and struggle to pursue their educational aspirations. This is Md Reyas, a bright student with a dream to become a software engineer. Photo by Ahtaram Shin.

A Rohingya refugee child studies a cultural education poster inside a shelter at Cox's Bazar camp. The poster, displaying farming tools from Arakan, offers a glimpse into their heritage. Photo by Asom Khan

All individuals, no matter their gender or situation, merit the chance to pursue education and brighten the world. Our commitment to learning endures, even within the confines of a Rohingya refugee camp. Photo by Bappy Photographer

My parents always dreamed of providing me with a university education, believing it to be the best opportunity to fight for rights. However, their dream remains unfulfilled.In the camp children lack access to formal education, adolescents have no schools for learning, and youths are without colleges or universities. Photo by Ro BM Hairu

Zomilah Begum, a Rohingya woman who completed her education up to class eight in Myanmar, now supports her family in a refugee camp. She educates her children, steers them clear of negative influences, and nurtures their ambitions. Photo by Ro Yassin Abdumonab.

Education transforms individuals, who in turn have the power to change the world. Despite common perceptions of Rohingya refugees as uneducated, many are eager for opportunities to learn and pursue education, even within the camps. The core issue lies in the lack of access to quality education. Photo by Ro BM Hairu

Grateful to MilkTeaAlliance Galleries for supporting to the contributors on this blog article with photos essay



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