As the Rohingya crisis reaches its one year anniversary on Saturday 25 August, Christian relief and development agency Tearfund points to the importance of remembering and addressing the psychological impact of the Rohingya refugee crisis on the thousands of children currently residing in temporary camps.
Tearfund has been working through partners in Cox's Bazar since the crisis began in August 2017, addressing material emergency needs such as building latrines, distributing tarpaulins, providing stoves and hygiene equipment, but also offering psychological support to both adults and children, through child-friendly spaces and trauma counselling.
As the first year draws to a close, and the number of Rohingya living in Bangladesh is approaching one million, it is more important than ever that we consider the emotional as well as physical impact of long-term settlement and the journey the refugees have taken.
Jacob Sarker, Tearfund's Country Representative in Bangladesh, says 'We are now a whole year on, and the threats facing the Rohingya people show no sign of abating. The people and the Government of Bangladesh have welcomed the Rohingya refugees with generosity and open borders, but the situation in the camps remains urgent and desperate - the Rohingya people are facing the continued threat and reality of rains, mudslides, poor sanitation, the spread of disease, and are reliant on food distributions. We are working through our partners to address some of these needs, yet it's also important we recognise the wounds they are bearing from the trauma they have endured.
'For children in particular, early experiences of such a crisis have a lasting impact, and it's essential we help them to process and have some relief from what they have experienced. We need to let them play and be children. Over the past year we have opened a number of child-friendly spaces to do just that, and next year we plan to open even more. The need for psychological support and counselling is on a monumental scale.'
Tearfund has set up a dozen child-friendly spaces in the camps, where children can draw, write poetry, talk to a trained therapist, play, learn and sing songs together. The spaces are made from reinforced bamboo shelters, which accommodate sixty children per day, from young children through to adolescents, and are a sanctuary from the harshness of life outside and a chance to enjoy some lighter, fun times together as well as an opportunity to process what they have experienced.
Jacob continues, 'People are cramped in small shelters, it's somewhat of a pressure cooker situation - child-friendly spaces allows children to start to come to terms with their psychological trauma and talk to others in a safe space.'
Tearfund has also provided trauma counselling and support to many adults, including parents of the children affected, with the services reaching 1,641 children and adults so far. The organisation plans to extend this to help hundreds more over the next 18 months.
Abdul Younus, age 11, arrived in the camp feeling traumatised by what he had seen fleeing Myanmar. He has been attending counselling sessions with Tearfund's partner, COAST, and has started going to a child-friendly space they organise.
He says 'I was studying in class five in school when we had to leave, my father used to run a grocery shop. But everything was destroyed by the armed men. They came and burnt everything. People were killed in the open daylight. We ran away and reached Bangladesh after eight days of walking through hills and jungles. It was very hard. When we arrived at the Kutupalong camp, I couldn't forget what I had seen. I didn't know what to do, it was frightening, scary. I couldn't see how things would be ok.
'Things are slowly getting better. I was introduced to a trauma counsellor from COAST and they have been helping me. Now I have started to go and play with other children at the centre. It's fun. I feel safe there, and happy.
'I don't know what the future holds. One day I want to have my favourite fish meal again! And a bath, every day! But more than that, I want to go to school and study. And one day, I need to earn money for my family.'
In addition to the psychosocial support Tearfund is providing, the organisation continues to provide other forms of support to the Rohingya refugees, including constructing dignified bathing spaces, desludging latrines to prevent the spread of diseases, providing solar light to keep community spaces safer and range of measures to mitigate against the impact of monsoon rains - including planting trees, digging drainage canals, and training the Rohingya people on how best to secure their shelters.
Tearfund has also been supporting the Bangladeshi host communities, providing essential cooking items and starting a micro-loans scheme to help local Bangladeshis rebuild their businesses and livelihoods.
Steve Collins, Head of Asia Team at Tearfund, says, 'We need to search for a long-term, dignified solution to those fleeing Myanmar, alongside urging the international community to continue funding the immediate, desperate needs of the Rohingya people. Please pray for emotional healing for all that have fled Myanmar, for our partners on the ground who are working with so many vulnerable families, and for world leaders to work together to bring peace and resolution to this crisis.'
To donate to Tearfund's Rohingya crisis response please go to http://www.tearfund.org/rohingyacrisis
Notes to editors:
- For further information call Sarah Baldwin on Tearfund Media Team on 07776 211518. For out of hours media enquiries please call 07710 573749.
- Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency and a member of the Disasters’ Emergency Committee. Founded in 1968, Tearfund has been working around the world for 50 years responding to disasters and helping lift communities out of poverty. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit www.tearfund.org.
- Photos - high res photos are available for download at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/prl8jrlgur6m89u/AACldOyC4BBcHOwHGVxkdDUIa?dl=0