Myanmar | Against the Odds
Maggie here from The Nexus Fund to provide you with an update. I’ve been in Myanmar (Burma) with our local Field Coordinator KKT (anonymous for her safety) since the most recent campaign of ethnic cleansing began in August 2017. Conservative estimates show that more than 6,700 have been killed and nearly 700,000 forced to flee their homes, causing a massive refugee crisis. As usual, the world watches and does little to intervene -- but we refuse to be bystanders. Thanks to our supporters, we continue to provide support that is guided by local community members through the network we have built over the past 5 years.
Uplifting stories despite devastating circumstances
Roughly 120,000 Rohingya have been confined to modern-day concentration camps since their homes were burned down more than five years ago. The most recent violence cut off all access to aid for months at a time in these camps. We are doing everything we can to help. Here’s just one example:
Aung, a nearly 80-year-old Rohingya community leader with clouded blue eyes, has been fighting for Rohingya rights for more than five decades. With a background in medicine and human rights law, over his lifetime he has spent more than 10 years in prison because he demanded basic human rights for his people. “My family barely survived that time,” he told us. And now, he’s living in what are essentially open-air prisons -- the camps.
When we asked how we could help the Rohingya in these dire conditions, we assumed we would hear requests for medicine or food.
This is a great example of why we need to listen to local community members and respect what they tell us they most need. Aung explained that the Rohingya can be tricked by ill-intentioned ‘translators’ into signing official documents that make them non-citizens or incorrectly say they have received food rations. They can’t protect themselves without education.
Aung is changing this one person at a time. By starting an informal education program, he has helped more than 150 men and women learn basic numeracy and literacy in local languages.
One participant, a 28-year-old woman with two young children, reported that before the conflict in 2012 forced her family into a camp, she was afraid to leave her home to go to the hospital or market because she knew she would be taken advantage of. Now, with the classes she is taking, she is confident in standing up for the rights of her family.
After talking to participants KKT reported, "They say that it helps hem even more than they expected – they can now read documents at the clinics. They can better access the basic resources on sanitation or domestic violence that aid groups try to provide to them. It is helping them to address issues within their community and beyond.”
We always put local solutions first
“Many people don’t realize that Rohingya people have their own ideas to protect their communities,” reports KKT. “They just need support. It’s hard because of the barriers that they have faced for decades. Most do not have citizenship rights, let alone the ability to register a nonprofit. Nexus is the only organization I know of that is able to reach community members directly with support for their own ideas and projects.”
While much of the recent attention remains rightfully focused on those facing violence in Northern Rakhine State and newly displaced to Bangladesh, we must not forget those who remain in the camps. Their ongoing, horrifying experiences are indicative of what any Rohingya forced to return to Myanmar from Bangladesh might face. (If you haven’t seen our Virtual Reality film inside the camps, watch here).
Our ability to make small grants directly to community leaders and individuals allows us to reach those most in need. We will continue to celebrate and support these quiet heroes who are doing essential work in their own communities against great odds.