Empowering Rohingya refugee children - A Green Hope initiative
Dubai, UAE, January 07, 2019: A 5 member team from Green Hope ( from Canada & Dubai ) spent the last 10 days of 2018 engaging rural women and children in remote parts of Bangladesh in the sustainable development process. Our mission was to realise the United Nations mandate of 'Leave No One Behind' as we march towards a sustainable future. It was an unbelievably moving experience -- our efforts were like a drop in their ocean of misery but we feel that we have planted some seeds of change which will surely bring about greater inclusivity.
We spent Christmas with the Rohingya refugee children at a camp on the outskirts of Cox Bazaar on the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Although we had seen images of their misery on TV the ground reality is far worse and nightmarish.
More than a million Rohingya refugees live in these camps , cramped in about 30,000 ramshackle huts and plastic structures , spread across the hilly terrain. Sanitation and hygiene do not exist. It's an unbelievably moving sight which no words or pictures can describe. The world seems to have forgotten them - yet they are also humans like us and have the same right to a life a dignity. Every day 50 children are born - many unable to survive beyond the first week. Abuse, exploitation, trafficking add to the pangs of hunger and disease at every moment.
An unsteady bamboo structure serves as a community centre and this is where the Green Hope team conducted environmental workshops for these children teaching them about the Sustainable Development Goals . We spent the day singing and dancing with the children , teaching them about the environment , to avoid plastics , to wash their hands and to conserve water. We sat together and drew our dreams of a clean , green planet. None of these children have been to school and their smiles and joyous laughter were the best Christmas gifts that we could have asked for. Even though we did not speak their language , we used art and music to teach them about environmental conservation. These children had no idea what tomorrow holds for them, yet they pledged to take actions to protect the environment . 8 year old Noor Fatima pledged to avoid plastic bags . 9 year old Akramulau drew a picture of a a child planting trees. After the workshop , we spent the afternoon planting 100 saplings in an open area behind their huts.
Their actions vindicated my belief that every child has the ability to make a difference - all they need is the opportunity.
We also went on extensive field trips to villages, travelling into the Sunderbans , the world's largest mangrove forest whose rich biodiversity is under severe threat as a result of pollution and deforestation. Through our workshops and community activities which included forest cleanups & planting over 200 mangrove saplings we engaged residents of 3 villages in caring for their environment and adopting sustainable lifestyles. We also distributed solar lamps to these villages which have no electricity. The children in these villages will now have light to study at night and also have some safety from wild animals when they venture out .
We spent a day with marginalised rural women who were part of a social innovation enterprise , using microfinance to establish their own small businesses - selling vegetables, tailoring, weaving etc. Fishing is a major source of livelihood and we spent time with the coastal communities , engaging the fishermen on sustainable fishing.
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