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Visiting the Rohingya Refugee Camp is my most respected medical mission

Visiting the Rohingya Refugee Camp is my most respected medical mission

I have visited many poverty-stricken, underserved areas of the world on medical missions. However, my most recent trip to the Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, marked the first time that I have ever cried during fieldwork.

 

Stories of suffering usually affect me after the adrenaline has worn off and the fatigue has set in – most often on my long plane ride back home or during jet-lagged nights as I lie awake, remembering the patients I have left behind. Children play by the water pump at the base of the refugee camp. -All photos by author unless stated otherwise This time, however, things were different and the emotional toll my work at the Rohingya camp took on me was greater than ever before.

I had come to Bangladesh as part of the MedGlobal assessment team — a group of doctors, nurses and public health professionals tasked by the NGO with the huge responsibility of determining the needs of the population and initiating a primary health care clinic in the middle of the camp. One of the pathways leading to the crowded tents of the camp. One day in the camp, after listening to an elderly lady’s breathing to diagnose pneumonia, I went to find water so that she could take her first dose of antibiotics. Upon my return, I found tears in the eyes of my Bengali/Urdu-speaking male interpreter.

After many childhood summers in Karachi, I knew well enough that for a man to show his vulnerability like this in a public place, especially around relative strangers, is not typical in this part of the world. So something must have been very disturbing. The campsite overlooking the roofs of the tents. When I asked him what happened, he just shook his head and told me that our patient was describing how she and her frail husband had witnessed their three adult sons being killed by the Myanmar army. They also saw one of their young grandchildren being thrown into a fire.

Despite the unimaginable horrors they had experienced, somehow, the couple managed to travel for days to reach Bangladesh with their granddaughter. The young girl had accompanied her grandmother to the clinic and could not have been older than eight or nine.

MedGlobal Needs Assessment Team along with local staff in the clinic. The child would get daily rations of food and water for her elderly grandparents. Seeing how this little one was bravely shouldering the responsibility for the care of her aging grandparents not only brought tears to my eyes, but also made me worry about her future. What would happen to her after they are gone? Maybe she would become like the three children we met as we explored the makeshift refugee camps in the Kutupalong and Balukhali areas of Ukhiya. The site consisted of about 800,000 people and was comprised of tents made from flimsy tarps and bamboo poles pitched on dirt ground, which turned into slippery mud during the monsoon rains.

The MedGlobal/Hope Foundation Clinic These children were brought across the border because their parents were killed in Myanmar. They are being raised by distant relatives. Their story was told to us by a man who spoke both Rohingya and Bengali. He was standing outside of his small tent, in which he lived with his four children, wife and two other family members. These children just crossed the Naf River to Bangladesh a few hours prior to this picture being taken. Myanmar can be seen in the background. As he stood outside his makeshift home, he told us another story of the lady in the neighbouring tent, who walked nine days over mountains, at eight months pregnant, with her three other children, to reach safety. Her husband was back in Myanmar, and she was unsure of his fate.  Source: Asia Nation

 

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