NEW YORK, Nov. 28, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Kutupalong is the world’s largest refugee camp, 13 square kilometers of temporary shelters – some made of wood and cane, most with tarps – set within a maze of mud pathways. Around one million Rohingya refugees live in this settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
The steep hillsides also house half a million refugee children with dreams that extend far beyond the confines of the camp. Fourteen-year-old Jannat* is one of them.
Despite the grim backdrop of a childhood marked by crises faced by so many Rohingya children in Myanmar, Jannat is continuing her education today. Thanks to Education Cannot Wait (ECW) investments in Bangladesh, and the support of partners like Save the Children, Jannat is back in the classroom and working towards a dream she’s held since she was a little girl: to become a doctor.
Jannat wasn’t always certain that her dreams of working in medicine were within reach. After fleeing Myanmar with her parents and two siblings, and settling in the refugee camp, that future seemed nearly impossible.
“I thought I would never get a chance to go to school again in my life. Since my childhood, I wanted to become a doctor, but after coming here, that desire started dying day-by-day,” says Jannat.
She recalls how this dream was first sparked. “Our house in Myanmar had two floors. We used to live on one floor, and a doctor used to rent the other floor.” Memories of the impact this woman had on their community are still fresh in her mind.
“Every day, I saw sick people visiting her for treatment. She seemed to know such magic that people were so relieved after their visit with her! I used to tell my mother that I will be like her when I grow up,” Jannat recalls.
But after seeking refuge in the camp with her family, Jannat was confronted by a harsh reality that didn’t leave much space for dreaming – or learning.
“After coming to the camp, that dream started to disappear. We live an uncertain life here. Initially, I used to go to the learning centre here but, just before I became a teenager, my studies stopped due to social customs,” says Jannat. “In our society, adolescent girls are not allowed to go out.”
Children and youth in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps face countless hurdles to accessing educational opportunities, and girls, as well as children with disabilities, are among those left furthest behind. Besides the dangers of floods, monsoons and fires – and all the risks that go along with living in such a congested camp in a country that ranks third in the world among states hit by natural disasters – refugee children are also extremely vulnerable to exploitation, gender-based violence, sexual abuse and child marriage.
In response to education barriers girls face in the camp, Save the Children established a learning facility that could serve as a safe haven for girls like Jannat.
“A year ago, [the community-based learning facility] was started here and many girls like me got the chance to study again,” says Jannat.
This new community-based education class is supported by ECW investments. The secure learning environment, led by female teachers, made it possible for girls within the camp who were at risk of dropping out – or who hadn’t previously been able to attend school – to get a quality education. Jannat’s mother, Marjina*, became a teacher at one of the centres. Her father has also taken on a volunteer teaching position in the camp.
With a safe place to learn, teachers to motivate her and a family that prioritized her education, it wasn’t long before Jannat was back in the protective and empowering embrace of the classroom. After diving back into learning, Jannat began to look around herself and dream of a brighter future again.
“Four months ago, I went to a camp hospital and was treated by a doctor. Her kind voice and attitude clicked my old dream again,” she says.
Today, Jannat and her classmates study six main subjects in the centre: Burmese, English, science, mathematics, social studies and life skills. Jannat’s favorite subjects are Burmese and, unsurprisingly, science. She knows that becoming a good doctor – like the inspiring female physicians she’s encountered throughout her life – requires a firm grasp of science. With her newfound access to education, she is learning as much as she can.
Jannat’s parents are inspired by their daughter’s love of learning. But they know the future she dreams of is unlikely if they remain in Kutupalong Refugee Camp. They hope, one day, their family will be able to return to Myanmar and that Jannat will study at a university there to become a doctor.
“Education is very important for us. We want our children to continue their studies as far as possible. Jannat is very attentive and interested in her studies. We will try our best to fulfill her dream,” say her parents.
Rohingya have been in Cox’s Bazar since the 1970s. The latest and largest exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar began in 2017 – sparked by a brutal crackdown that targeted the ethnic group. Entire villages were burned down, families were separated and killed, and countless people were victims of other atrocities. While the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar offer temporary shelter to those who fled Myanmar, refugees need additional support.
Rohingya girls and boys there lack access to basic services such as education, health care, nutrition, and water and sanitation facilities. Since the early days of the refugee influx, ECW has been supporting learning opportunities for those left furthest behind. ECW works with donors, United Nations agencies, civil society organizations – including Save the Children – community leaders and other key stakeholders to support access to safe and holistic learning spaces.
In 2022, ECW extended its Multi-Year Resilience Programme in Bangladesh with a new US$13.2 million catalytic grant that will reach 230,000 Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host community children. It is also providing a mechanism to align additional funding and scale-up the education in emergency response in Bangladesh. Fully funded, the scaled-up programme will reach over 350,000 children. To date, ECW has invested a total of $31 million in Bangladesh and has already reached nearly 310,000 crisis-affected children and youth.
ECW calls on world leaders, donors, governments, private sector companies, high-net-worth individuals, and other global advocates to make substantive funding contributions to the Fund to help reach the most vulnerable children – including Rohingya girls and boys left furthest behind – with safe, inclusive quality education.
*Names have been changed to protect identifying information
Story by Jelena Borak, based on original reporting by Save the Children.
SOURCE Education Cannot Wait