Providing a dignified life for refugee children with disabilities

In the Rohingya refugee camp, an accessible latrine is making a difference in Irfan’s life

A UNICEF-supported learning centre in the Rohingya refugee camps
UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Lateef
19 June 2022

9-year-old Irfan has been living in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar for almost five years. In 2017, Irfan and his family fled violence and persecution in their home country of Myanmar, making their way to Bangladesh to seek refuge. This journey was more complicated for Irfan, who was born with a disability that makes walking long distances extremely difficult. His older brother carried Irfan on his back the entire journey.

The struggles of living with a disability did not end once Irfan and his family settled in the refugee camps. With its hilly terrain, the camps are not easy to navigate even for the most able-bodied person. This is particularly true in the monsoon season, when landslides and floods are everyday disasters waiting to happen.

Irfan lost his parents and lives with his older brother, sister-in-law, and baby niece. He needed his family’s help in most aspects of life. This included his brother having to carry Irfan to the nearest latrine, which was over a hill, every time he needed to use the bathroom. If Irfan tried to make the trip on his own, he would often fall and injure himself.

“It’s a very hard thing to live like Irfan,” shared his brother, “I do what I can to help but it can be frustrating for both him and me.”

UNICEF and partners have been responding to the needs of people living with disabilities in the camps, including children like Irfan. So far 1,000 disability friendly latrines have been constructed. Once Irfan’s case was identified a latrine was constructed, attached to his family’s shelter. This supports ease of use, whenever he requires its services.

This made an immediate difference to Irfan’s daily life. He felt more confident as he could now use a latrine without help from anyone.

Bangladesh. Irfan washing his hands after using the latrine attached to his home.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Lateef
Irfan washing his hands after using the latrine attached to his home.

“I am happy that I can use the new latrine by myself,” shares Irfan.

He even felt confident enough to begin attending his learning centre regularly. Previously, he refused to go to the learning centre sometimes on account of being afraid that he would need to use a latrine during class-time. But with the learning centre close to his shelter, and a new latrine being attached to the shelter, Irfan felt comfortable enough to not worry about it anymore.

Irfan’s favorite subjects to study at the learning centre are English, Math and Burmese. Someday, he hopes to grow up and become a teacher.

“I want to be a teacher because everyone respects teachers,” shares Irfan, “As a teacher I can help other children like me, and many who are yet to enroll in the learning centres.”

Community members and teachers are trained to identify and refer children with disabilities for support, which is a key component in increasing access to equitable and inclusive education for children like Irfan, to allow them a better chance in living a life with dignity.