Q&A with Sophomore Maleeha Mahbub on volunteering at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

Daniel Tian

Sophomore Maleeha Mahbub interacts with Rohingya student refugees at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. She spent a few days there during the summer of 2020 and helped Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar to escape targeted violence and human rights violations. (Submitted Photo)

Where did you go last summer?

Last summer I went to Ukhia in Bangladesh at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camps. 

What are the Rohingya refugee camps? What happened to the people there?

Since the 1970s, the Rohingya people have been migrating to Bangladesh in pretty small numbers because they have been facing oppression in Myanmar for a very long time, but in 2017 there was an increase of violence against them; it was basically genocide. Their houses were burnt down, their men were killed, a lot of women and girls were raped, and they were just risking everything to get away from there, and so, over, I think, 1.2 million Rohingyas went to Bangladesh.

What did you do there?

I was only there for a few days, but I was mostly at the medical centers, helping people get to where they were supposed to be, and I spent a few days at their learning centers with the kids there.

Why did you decide to volunteer in Ukhia?

I volunteered with a local nonprofit called Obat Helpers. I volunteer there pretty regularly in Indiana, but I got the opportunity to volunteer at the actual refugee camps last summer and the summer of 2018 as well, so I had already been there.

Chloe Sun

What’s something that you learned while volunteering?

It’s going to sound kind of cheesy, but there were so many little kids there, a ton of little kids, and they were everywhere. I got the opportunity to speak to a lot of them, and they had been through so much. They had witnessed so much, and they were so traumatized, but they were still laughing, and they were playing, and they just seemed so happy even though they were going through so much. So I learned that you can probably get through anything if they can.

Is there anything else you’d like to say that you want everyone to know?

I want everyone to know that I think there should be a little more awareness about the Rohingya situation just because it is such a big thing. They went through textbook ethnic cleansing, there’s not much awareness about it, and the Myanmar government denies everything. So I just want people to learn more about it.