Dreams, hopes and fears in the Bangladesh camps

A distribution of soap by Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers in the Widows Block, Kutapalong camp, Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh. Staying clean and healthy is a challenge in the camp, where the dried earth b

A distribution of soap by Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers in the Widows Block, Kutapalong camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

Photo: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

By Farid Alam, 21-year-old resident of Kutupalong camp, whose parents fled Rakhine, Myanmar nearly 30 years ago. Farid is a Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteer working alongside international Red Cross operations.  

When I was born in Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, it was a very different place. I remember laughing and flying kites as a child with my friends. Kites are not flying around our camps anymore. There is little laughter.

Farid Alam, 21-year-old resident of Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh

Farid Alam, 21-year-old resident of Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh

Photo: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society

Just months ago, we lived in a different world. We used to go outside a lot, seeking freedom from our little bamboo and plastic homes. But now, due to COVID we cannot. Often we are told to stay inside. It’s hot and cramped as I have a big family, with nine of us living in one room.

Physical distance is just not possible in our homes. It’s the same for most living here. We have hardly any masks and other protective equipment in the camps. We have no idea how we are surviving.

Most people in the camps do not seem to care about much, certainly not COVID-19. Our main worries are our dignity, our safety and having hope for our future. We are not only fighting with the coronavirus here. We are fighting much more. I know about COVID-19 but most people in the camps have not heard of it. Many don’t know what a virus is.

We have seen many organizations using loudspeakers to make people aware of coronavirus. It doesn’t work. They speak so fast and move past too quickly. Our community Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers are doing a great job going door to door. I’m seeing people understand now. It helps a lot.

I see this place full of suffering. From dawn to dusk, we endure challenges: finding food, repairing our homes, keeping safe or seeking water. Our lives are filled with limitations. Most of us do not have the opportunity to read and write.

When I can, I pass the time reading. I love history and English literature. Ever since my childhood, I wanted to be a teacher. I studied up to my eighth year as we were not allowed more education than that. It was very difficult to accept. Since then I have been studying by myself. It would be my dream to become a teacher.

But my life has become very difficult lately as my father is sick. For many years, my 48-year-old father volunteered with Bangladesh Red Crescent operations in the camps. Our whole family was dependent on his allowance and aid we received. He has developed heart problems and other health complications.

Since I was 14, I have been volunteering with Red Crescent. I have been working as much as possible, around two weeks a month and I am paid a small allowance. This money is all we have. I want to support my family with all my heart.

I am trying to protect my family from COVID-19. My parents came here after fleeing from Rakhine in Myanmar nearly 30 years ago. Every day I worry for my mother, who suffers from chronic kidney disease.

Our shelters are getting old. The bamboo frames, plastic and tarpaulins are wearing out. When it rains, water often pours into our homes. It’s the monsoon season now and it’s raining a lot so it is very hard to sleep.

We often wait in a queue to access a toilet and bathing area. It’s shared with 25-30 people. My mother and sister fear going out at night to use the toilet. There is no lighting and they must go in complete darkness. Often I go for support. Things are worse in the mud of the monsoon rains.

Staring at the roof of our shelter, I hear the sound of people speaking nonstop. We have no personal space. No privacy whatsoever.

As if life is not hard enough, there are mice and rats as big as cats. They often make more holes in our tarpaulins.

I find time to help my neighbour’s children reading and writing. I teach them maths, Arabic and English. I love teaching them. I don’t want children in my community to lose their future. Since official teaching activities have been halted, I think the children will forget the lessons they have been taught by their teachers in the past. I also speak to them about the risks we face with COVID-19.

If I were a citizen of any country, I could finish my education. I would love to pursue a higher education. If I could become a teacher and work, I would love to better support my family. But I am not that lucky person. I am stuck here. I do not know what will happen to me and my family in the coming days. Whatever happens, we will face it together.

All I want is to forget everything and start a new life. Earn a little to survive and live a very simple life with my family.

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