Besides the ability to return to their homeland in Myanmar in safety and dignity, there are few aspirations that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh want more than to be able to educate their children. Like so many persecuted minorities around the world, Rohingya see learning and skills-building opportunities as a critical component to a more hopeful future. To support and encourage these aspirations, The Richardson Center is supporting the establishment of a community library in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group from Myanmar’s Rakhine State. For deaces, the Rohignya have faced persecution in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship, freedom of movement, basic rights, access to healthcare and education, and are subject to systematic violence and abuse at the hands of Myanmar’s military. Violence against the Rohingya reached a crescendo in 2017, when “clearance operations” forced nearly 750,000 Rohingya to flee from Rakhine State to Bangladesh.
Though Rohingya have found relative safety in Bangladesh, the sprawling refugee camps are densely populated and, barred from legally working in Bangladesh, Rohingya are dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, shelter, and healthcare.
There are also significant barriers to learning and skills-building opportunities in the refugee camps: humanitarian agencies have established hundreds of temporary learning centers and child friendly spaces, but instruction is limited to a few hours a day, is of varying quality, and does not meet Rohingya desires for a formal education. These challenges have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered temporary learning facilities since April and delayed plans to implement a pilot project, approved by the Bangladesh Government, to provide formal education to 10,000 Rohingya youth. Limitations to learning opportunities combined with coronavirus-related restrictions have amplified fears of a lost generation of Rohingya children and youth.
Through dialogue with Rohingya leaders, civil society organizations, and others, The Richardson Center began exploring the possibility of establishing a community library in the Rohingya refugee camps, recently moving forward with the project. Built from the ground up, the library features a growing collection of print and digital learning materials for Rohingya children and youth. Dozens of Rohingya come to the library each day, to peruse or borrow the materials curated by a full-time librarian and word of mouth is quickly spreading among Rohingya eager for safe learning opportunities. Over time, it is our hope that the library serves as a Rohingya-driven and directed space for learning, skills-building, and community-building.
The community library is a small piece of a much larger puzzle that will determine the future for Rohingya, both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar, but it is our hope that projects like this one can demonstrate the importance and effectiveness at putting Rohingya at the forefront of the response in Cox’s Bazar and provide Rohingya with greater agency to shape the future they aspire to build for themselves and their community.