Children centres in Cox's Bazar, new hope for Rohingya children (photos)
by Sumon Corraya

Approximately 700,000 refugees are camped in the Bangladeshi district on the border with Myanmar. Out of a hundred Children Friendly Spaces, six are run by Caritas. Education is provided in English and Burmese. Notions of ethics can save minors from crime.

Cox's Bazar (AsiaNews) – When eight-year-old Yousuf Ali arrived last year at the refugee camp for Rohingya Muslims in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, he was malnourished and frightened. He had seen his father die before his eyes, killed by Myanmar soldiers and, to survive, he had fled his country with his widowed mother.

But now for him, and for many other children in the same situation, new hope has come via a Child Friendly Space (CFS), a centre for children run by a local NGO, the Community Development Centre (CODE).

CODE’s childhood centre is not the only one of its kind. Caritas Bangladesh has six CFSs of its own and plans to open another five in the coming months.

In all, non-governmental organisations have set up at least a hundred of these facilities in the district. Their purpose is to alleviate the suffering of minors who, despite their tender age, have already experienced death and destruction.

About 200,000 Rohingya refugee families live in Cox's Bazar and in the Bandarban area, after fleeing Myanmar as a result of renewed clashes between the Myanmar military and rebels in the State of Rakhine last August.

It is estimated that at least 700,000 people are refugees on the Bangladesh border. The most vulnerable are the children, who are often forced to beg to survive.

Children's centres are a true anchor of salvation. Here they received an education in Burmese and English, but not in Bangla after Bangladeshi authorities forbade it.

"Children learn with enthusiasm,” said Mohammod Hasan, assistant teacher, speaking to AsiaNews. “Subjects are the alphabet, poetry, ethics and mathematics, in both languages” (Burmese and English).

Yousuf is one of 150 students. "We get a good education” he said. “We can also play. I have many friends and we also get food".

"We can learn, sing and pray together,” said Sikander Hossian, a classmate. “They give us food. For this we thank Bangladesh and [foreign] donors."

Amroze Gomes, manager of CFS projects for Caritas Bangladesh, notes that since the beginning of the refugee emergency the Catholic association has devoted special care to children.

"Underage Rohingya have been our priority,” he said. “They were persecuted in their homeland. Most were undernourished, traumatised and ill. They have struggled in the camp, but little by little they are meeting all the challenges. We not only provide education but also deal with (psychological) traumas."

The humanitarian worker notes that petty crime is widespread even among children, because NGOs are not allowed to work after 4 pm. "Under these conditions, children need more ethical education if they want to save themselves from crime."