Rohingya and Bangladeshi adolescents build friendships at social hub
EU-funded initiative helps promote social cohesion between refugee and host communities in Cox’s Bazar
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When Soyaib came to Bangladesh four years ago after fleeing Myanmar, he was afraid to go outside the refugee camps. Still traumatized by the previous year’s violence, he didn’t know what to expect from the local community in Cox’s Bazar. He had heard of a growing wariness towards refugees as some people had been concerned about a large refugee population settling in their community.
The 14-year-old boy spent most of his days indoors, sharing a small shelter with seven siblings. Like 80 per cent of Rohingya adolescents his age, he had no access to education in the camp. He badly missed his school and was eager to start learning again.
An aid worker told Soyaib about a social hub that provides Rohingya and Bangladeshi adolescents with life skills, sports activities and a library. Since then, it has become his favourite place because it reminds him of his classroom in Myanmar.
Over the past two years, Soyaib has participated in several initiatives on youth leadership and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing at the UNICEF-supported social hub funded by the European Union and operated by the Bangladesh Institute of Theatre Arts. He is eager to learn new technologies after completing a basic computer literacy course. Thanks to the skills he gained through a “social agents of change” workshop in the social hub, Soyaib speaks out for quality educational opportunities for Rohingya refugees.
Through the social hub, he met two Bangladeshi adolescents – 16-year-old Jamal and 15-year-old Arifur – who came to the hub, not least because they were curious to meet Rohingya people.
Jamal asked Soyaib if he could give them a tour of the refugee camps. When the Rohingya boy took the Bangladeshi youth to his home, they were shocked to see the dire living conditions of refugees, their childhoods reduced to narrow alleys and dingy tents.
“Jamal said that my place was beautiful,” Soyaib chuckles when sharing the story of how their friendship began. The Bangladeshi boy admits that he didn’t want to offend his friend by saying that his house was way too small.
Nowadays, the boys’ bond is stronger than ever. As they sit or play in the colorful rooms of the social hub, they tell each other about their countries and discuss issues affecting their communities. Soyaib has learned some English by watching online videos and now he’s teaching his friends because he wants to thank them for the support and the sense of belonging that they gave him.
Jamal invited Soyaib to visit his house in Teknaf too. When the youngsters were walking together through the Bangladeshi village, they elicited a lot of curious glances. Host community youth gathered to look at the two friends walking together as this was a rare sight.
Towards a better life
“Wow! You’ve made friends with a Rohingya. How can we meet other Rohingya like him?” Jamal describes the enthusiastic reaction of the villagers when they met Soyaib. Today, Jamal organizes group visits of Bangladeshi adolescents to the social hub in the refugee camp.
He’s thankful for the opportunities that the social hub provides to acquire life skills and meet like-minded peers. Despite coming from different backgrounds, Rohingya and Bangladeshi adolescents have more things in common than they have difference. They all share the same aspirations of learning, earning and living in peace.
This UNICEF programme supported by the European Union Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace aims to enhance peaceful co-existence among adolescents and youth, to strengthen social cohesion and bridge gaps between Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities. More information is available in the project brochure and poster.