At an age when many young Rohingya women have children, Rahima Akter has other plans. From the refugee camp in southern Bangladesh where she was born, Akter, a 19-year-old with a confident smile who goes by the name Khushi, says she aspires to become the most educated Rohingya woman in the world.
Akter was born and has lived her whole life in the camp, a makeshift settlement of bamboo and tarpaulin huts spread out over rolling hills that were once protected forestland.
Her parents were among a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s. She sees education as her ticket out of the camp.
“If we take education then we will be able to lead our life as a life,” she said.
To donate and contribute to Rohingya refugees and Rohingya students, please go to www.allmercy.org
Akter has supplemented her family’s income by working as a translator for aid groups and journalists responding to a new influx of Rohingya refugees who have flooded the camp since August 2017, when the Myanmar military and Buddhist mobs began “clearance operations” against Rohingya in retaliation for insurgent attacks on security posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
A United Nations fact-finding mission reported last month that at least 10,000 Rohingya are believed to have died in the violence. The U.N. has called for Myanmar’s top military generals to be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.
But while the Rohingya have found a measure of safety in southern Bangladesh, access to education is far from assured.
Akter said she is among only a few Rohingya refugee girls to have completed the Bangladeshi equivalent of high school, a feat she could only achieve by sneaking past the camp’s checkpoints and bribing Bangladeshi public school officials for a placement.
More than 1,200 temporary schools teach English, math, Burmese, science and the arts to about 140,000 children between the ages of 6 and 14, just over a quarter of the more than half a million refugee children living in the camp, according to UNICEF.
But the schooling only goes up to 5th grade, so Akter and other refugees have had to secretly enroll in schools in Cox’s Bazar or other towns to complete their studies. Because of the limited educational opportunities for them, UNICEF calls the refugee children “a lost generation.”
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