Voices of a generation

Rohingya and Bangladeshi adolescents share hopes for their communities

By Rashad Wajahat Lateef
Bangladesh. A teenage boy plays at a social hub for adolescents as agents of peace and stability.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Sujan
21 September 2020

For over three years, 860,000 Rohingya refugees have been forced to live in Bangladesh after fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar.  More than half of these refugees are children and adolescents. Settling in Cox’s Bazar, some are living in refugee camps whilst others are being hosted in the Bangladeshi community.

Without access to formal education or the proper spaces and opportunities to explore their identities as they grow, many of these refugee children are being left behind at risk of becoming a lost generation. Providing them with safe spaces where they have the freedom to read, write, play and explore their creative sides is of vital importance.

To address these concerns, UNICEF has established several social hubs dedicated to the growth and skills development of adolescents from Rohingya and host communities while fostering social cohesion between these communities. This selection of poems and drawings from Rohingya and Bangladeshi adolescents, who attend the social hubs, depict their hopes for their communities.

 

Omar, 16-year-old
Rohingya community

Rohingya boy Omar, 16, reading a storybook in the library.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
Omar, 16, reading a storybook in the library section of a UNICEF-supported social hub.

Omar, a 16-year-old living in the refugee camps, is a regular member of a social hub near his home. Omar likes to spend his free time at the hub reading story books, and writing. He writes poems often and reflects on his three years in Bangladesh as a refugee:

Fleeing the homeland

No roof to take refuge

Being blurred the way to home

No face to see

No word to speak

No ground to play

Humans helped humans

Million thanks aren’t enough

Billion prayers aren’t adequate

Having no paddle

Can’t find any shores

Uncountable helping hands

Pulled me to the shores

Now I have a roof

Faces with welcoming smiles

Words to speak

Pens to write

Songs to sing

Now I am a player general

The way to home becomes brighter

Poem by a Rohingya child in Bangladesh.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Omar

“When we came to Bangladesh, I lost all my books. I could not read anything for a very long time,” shares Omar, “and when I heard that this place had a library I had to come. Now, I spend all the time I can in the library, reading.”

 

Hossain, 17-year-old
Bangladeshi community

Hossain, 17, drawing a scenic picture at a UNICEF-supported social hub.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
Hossain, 17, drawing a scenic picture at a UNICEF-supported social hub.

Hossain wants to pursue his art as a career after he graduates from school. At his social hub, he practices his drawing daily because it brings him peace. His skill allows him to dream big  for the future.

“One day I would like to open an art school,” says Hossain, “where I can teach other children to draw as a hobby. I think it is a good practice for everyone to have, no matter who you are.”

Bangladesh. “Home is Where the Heart is,” by Hossain.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Hossain
“Home is Where the Heart is,” by Hossain.

Yasina, 15-year-old
Bangladeshi community

Bangladesh. Yasina, 15, browsing the internet.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
Yasina, 15, browsing the internet in the computer lab section of a UNICEF-supported social hub.

Yasina, is a 15-year-old Bangladeshi member of a social hub where she has made some friends with girls quickly from Rohingya community over the past year. They exchange stories about their lives often. The Rohingya girls find it easy to confide in someone like Yasina, about their struggles and the homeland they miss every day.

“I know how much pain my friends have been through,” says Yasina, “their people have been through a lot. I can’t imagine being forced to leave Bangladesh for even a day, and they have been away from their home for three years. It’s very painful to even think about.”

Yasina‘s resolve to contributing to social cohesion between both the communities comes directly from these connections she has formed at the social hub.  This has also inspired her to write a poem dedicated to her Rohingya friends.

Home is where the heart is

Every time she thinks,
she will have a good dream,
the suffering appears before my eyes;
eagles fly at the snap of the finger,
dead river, sad grey, barren land, sand bed,
she cannot dream any longer.
Every time she tries to write a pure poem,
she remembers those bloody beaches.
She hears the sun cry.
Only a sky full of pain.
Her mind becomes crowded,
and she remembers her country.
When will she be able to return to her country?
These thoughts don’t let her sleep.
Her heart cries out for her country.
What else can she do? She can’t return to her country.
She sits silently.
No matter how happy she is in Bangladesh,
her heart still longs to go back to her own country.
She had so much in that country.
Barn full of cows, granary full of wheat.
She had to run for her life and flee to Bangladesh
but she left her heart in her own country.
That is why I say, “Home is where the heart is.”

বাংলাদেশ। কবিতা
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Yasina

Disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

This UNICEF programme supported by the European Union Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) aims to enhance peaceful co-existence among adolescents and youth, to strengthen social cohesion and bridge gaps between Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities. You can download a digital brochure and poster of the project here.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of UNICEF and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.