A year ago, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya began fleeing Myanmar and crossing into neighboring Bangladesh. Five refugees and locals, trained by DW Akademie to be radio reporters, describe their experiences.
August 25th marks the first anniversary of the mass exodus of the Rohingya from Myanmar. Almost one million people are now living in Kutupalong, in Bangladesh's southeastern district of Cox's Bazar. The refugee camp has existed for decades and has now become the largest in the world. Longtime camp residents and newcomers now live side by side with the local population.
With support from Germany's Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), DW Akademie is training young Rohingya and young local residents to become community journalists.
The goal is to spread important information faster and to increase the exchange among the reporters themselves and with the population, as well. The radio program, Palonger Hotha (Voice of Palong), is broadcast by DW Akademie project partner, Radio Naf. Community reporters are now reporting on everyday life and making people's voices heard.
Five reporters describe their experiences during the mass exodus and what it means to be on the road as community journalists.
Zia (18) was born in the Registered Rohingya Camp in Kutupalong. He was in the midst of his final exams when thousands of new refugees began arriving in the camp.
My family has been here for 26 years. We left Myanmar a long time ago. When some of the new people arrived who didn’t have anywhere to stay, they came to our house. There were seven families, 50 people altogether. None were relatives of ours.
I've talked with my parents and others about how the young girls and boys will get an education, how they were treated in Myanmar, how they've been traumatized. The journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh is a long one. It normally takes seven days, but these people needed a month. They went for days without food, they became sick. When they arrived at our house they only asked for water. They were afraid they would die.
The newcomers now have privileges that we used to have. They are given food and material to repair their houses. This means we now have to share these privileges with them.
They were shy to give interviews when I approached them as a radio reporter at first. I feel very emotional and sad when they share their problems. I am a Muslim, I am a Rohingya, I can relate to their pain.
I work for the radio program so that I can develop my skills and experience new things. But this way I can also bring the suffering and the joy of the Rohingya people to the world, and the world can hear it.
Ibrahim (19) arrived in the refugee camp 9 months ago, together with 39 family members. His grandfather was killed before they crossed the border into Bangladesh.
I can’t say which feeling is stronger: that I am in Bangladesh and safe, or that I miss the country I grew up in.
I am very dedicated to my country. I miss it very much. There was no education system for us in Myanmar, but there were people from the neighborhood who taught me to read. I got my education from them. These people are the ones I miss most. I wonder where they are now, what they are doing.
Now I work as a community reporter for the Palonga Hother radio programme. It is important to report on what matters to us.
How Rohingya people feel, how they suffer. I want people to know that we listen to them and publish their voice.
For example, we need to be granted the Myanmar nationality. There are 135 tribes in Myanmar. But the Rohingya community is not counted, it’s not nationalized yet. We want our community counted as 136th community.
Asma (20), mother of one daughter, came to Bangladesh a year ago. She walked for nine days together with four brothers and three sisters.
We came separately, four of us at one time and the other four at another time. My mother was in the second group and she became sick, she had to go to hospital. It was very difficult for us, it was night time, it was crowded and it was hazy. We didn’t know where to go, whether we will be alive in the future or not. But, finally, on a Friday, we made it to Bangladesh.
When I try to remember my life in Myanmar, I become very sad, I become furious. I don’t know where I am, in Bangladesh or in Myanmar. I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to sleep. What I feel is sadness.
But I am also happy to be in Bangladesh and safe. And I feel good that I am working now. As a reporter for the Voice of Palong radio programme, I am very happy to hear the stories of the Rohingya people, tragic stories. The fact that their voices can now be heard by everyone makes me very happy.
Ayesha (18) is a local Bangladeshi and lives in Cox's Bazar. She started working with the Palonger Hotha program in April.
I want to become a journalist and this is a good opportunity to gain experience. I also come into contact with the Rohingya community this way. I first met Rohingya people in December 2017 and wanted to do something for them. We didn't talk much at first but then I started to organize "listener clubs" in the refugee camps.
That's when I heard many of their stories. I talked to an old lady, for example, who has two sons and seven daughters. She told me that two of her daughters were raped and that she didn't know where her sons were, whether they are still alive or were shot in Myanmar. Another woman told me she came to Bangladesh with her husband, but then he left her and is now living with another woman in the camp. He takes the relief aid that his wife gets and gives it to the other woman. He has started beating and torturing his wife and has even threatened to murder her.
I believe the Palonger Hotha radio programme can bring about change. We report on the Rohingya's problems and suffering, and when they listen to the program they become more aware of their situation. I can see that change is coming. It might not be a 100 per cent change, but perhaps about 60. If we had a similar radio program for village people they would experience a slow change, as well. Yes, our programme does help people.
Sajeda (20), a local Bangladeshi, began working with DW Akademie partner Radio Naf in 2017.
I worked at the information hubs in the camps. We give information to Rohingya people where they can get help.
Many local people work for the Rohingya community. We know that they were tortured, that they are traumatized and have really suffered. When they came here, they didn’t have a place to live. If we can’t give them that, at least we can give them our words. We can give them information. I really want to help them.
I've covered a lot of topics for the Palonger Hotha radio show, and they've also been aired in the information hubs and listener clubs. Listeners can learn how to take care of their children, for example, they can learn about the rainy season and about how they can get help.
The Rohingya people share their stories with me and when I go home, I share these stories with my four sisters. When I organize listener clubs, I also take pictures and show them to my sisters, as well. Rohingya are Muslims, we are Muslims. We have the same religion, we can relate to the people. When they share their suffering, their trauma, I feel very concerned. I feel sad for them.