Roughly 250,000 Rohingya girls live in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. For International Day of the Girl, Oxfam is pleased to share the work of Ishrat Bibi, Parmin Fatema, and Umme Salma — three young women living in the camps who were featured in Oxfam’s 2021 Rohingya Arts Competition. We are grateful to these incredible artists for sharing snapshots of refugee girls’ daily lives, challenges, ambitions, and hopes for the future.
Essay by By Parmin Fatema (@MaMayChit)
My name is Hafsa, I am a Rohingya girl who had a dream of attending University. I belong to the Arakan State of Myanmar. My family is well educated, and I studied hard to pass my matriculation exam with distinction. Unfortunately, I could not continue my studies due to the genocide on 25 August 2017 in Arakan. My family and community had to flee our motherland to save our lives, and then we became refugees in Bangladesh.
Although I knew there was no chance of being admitted to the university for our Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, I never lost my dream to go to university. Even while living in the refugee camp, I used to hope that I could go one day if I had the opportunity. However, it was hard to think about furthering my studies in the camp because there are no options for adequate learning for Rohingya. It is dangerous for our teenage girls to stay in the unsafe tents in the refugee camp, so my parents planned for me to get married. I could not ignore my marriage proposal and the wishes of my family, because I was a girl who had no other options for choosing.
In the end, my dream became unrealistic. I asked myself why it was not achievable and realized it was because I am a Rohingya, and I am a refugee. I determined that having a dream is not a big sin — but our situation often makes our dreams impossible. We should not stop dreaming, rather we should keep hoping and wait for the right time.
After my marriage, my husband came to know of my ambition to apply for admission to the university. As an educated person, he tried to understand me, and I was able to convince him. He even accompanied me while I completed the admission process. Luckily, I passed the entrance exam nicely and was admitted to The Asian University for Women, where I wanted to study.
I got a second chance at my dream. I am now a university student and learning through online classes. I have not attended any physical classes yet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I hope I will be able to next year. As a refugee girl, I never expected that my dream would come true, but it really did. I am so grateful to everyone who helped me in my journey with my big dream — especially my husband, who supported me, and my university, which gave me such an opportunity.
To all my dearest Rohingya sisters who have a dream, hope, or a goal to achieve in life like Hafsa. I would say, never ever give up in life. If you dream it, hope for it until you gain it. I know you face many problems including being refugees, being stateless, having limited opportunities, and facing society’s obstacles — but I would say to try your best to challenge all of them. You have to overcome all the struggles that are around you. Otherwise, you will have to survive your whole life being a victim of your life. You are responsible for your own success, so make your own decisions. Be the key to your happiness and spread it to others if possible.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Ishrat Bibi is a 19-year-old photographer and poet who lives in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar Refugee Camps. She began taking photographs in Myanmar after her brother gifted her a phone when she passed her matriculation. Photography is one of her passions, and she spends her days taking pictures of her surroundings, only stopping when her phone battery dies. Ishrat is currently studying and is committed to ensuring other Rohingya children also get the chance to learn: “I have a number of goals in the long-run such as completing a master’s degree in Islamic studies, to be a good Poetess known around the world, and an excellent photographer. My biggest dream is to work on children’s education — I want to see every individual Rohingya child in school because in my community there are thousands of children who have no idea about their education.”
Parmin Fatema (@MaMayChit) is a writer and poet from northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. She now lives in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, where she works as a volunteer for a humanitarian agency and attends the Asian University for Women. Her personal essay, “A Rohingya Girls’ Dream” was one of the winning pieces in Oxfam’s 2021 Rohingya Arts Competition. “There are many Rohingya girls who have similar stories but cannot raise their voices. So, I did on behalf of them,” Parmin told Oxfam. “An individual should have the liberty to do anything that they want in their life without any discrimination and injustice. Every learner should have access to a proper education and have the freedom to pursue their own life.”
Umme Salma is an 18-year-old photographer living in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. “I am a Rohingya girl who takes photographs,” Umme says. “Since childhood, I have wanted to be a professional journalist, but I can not due to lack of education and opportunity. My ambition is to help our community raise their voices to the world through storytelling and pictures.”