Today I want to tell you about my experience with the Rohingya refugees while I was in Langkawi Island. But before I start, I want to tell you who are the Rohingyas and what actually happened to them. Maybe some of you already know, but for the benefit of those who don’t, I want to tell their story.
Be warned, this will probably be a looong post.
So the Rohingyas are a minority Muslim group from Myanmar (a majority Buddhist country), also known as ‘boat people’. For years they have been persecuted by the Myanmar government, denied citizenship, access to jobs, healthcare and education even though most of them have lived in Myanmar for more than a century. The Rohingyas have been fleeing Myanmar for decades, trying to find a better life in other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
But their journey has not been easy.
Before they could flee Myanmar, they had to face so many hardships.
“We were beaten, harassed and our houses burned down. We dug trenches, and put dry grass in them to sleep. We soon had no food to eat and were often hunted down.”
Even after they managed to get out of Myanmar, they were caught by human traffickers who beat them, raped the women and put them in cages, and demanded a ransom before releasing them in Malaysia.
There are over 3000 refugees on Langkawi Island, Malaysia. We didn’t have the chance to visit the bigger refugee camp because of security issues, but we did pay a visit to a smaller community which broke off from the bigger one. I have to say that it was very heartbreaking to see them. I mean, I watch the news, I read articles about refugees from everywhere, and I do feel sad and I wish I could do something to help them, but seeing them on TV is nothing compared to seeing them for myself.
We couldn’t actually visit their homes, they had a small school for the children so that’s where we had all the activities. Only around 30 kids were there on the day we came. I’m not sure why, I know there are more of them, but only around 30 showed up. Their parents —those who have parents, are there too, along with their chief/leader, I’m not sure what to call him. Anyway, when we arrived, the kids looked so curious, but at the same time, it was like they were scared to come out of the school building, just peeking out the door. They were dressed in the best clothes they had and all of them looked so adorable.
So we were divided into 3 groups, 1 group to clean inside the school, 1 group to clean the lawn and another group to stay with the kids and let them color some pictures we brought with us. I was originally in the first group that had to clean the school building, but I wanted to spend time with the kids so I just jumped around everywhere.
Before we started cleaning, we —well, those that could fit inside anyway, watched while the kids said their ABCs. And when they could remember all the letters, all of us clapped, of course. What I didn’t expect was how happy they were when we clapped. I could see it in their faces that they were SO happy and they were so excited to be the next to go. I almost cried right then and there.
The school building, if you could call it that, is really small. Just one room (the one in the picture above), that is split into 2 sections: one for an English class and the other one for another subject. Then they have a small kitchen at the very back with pretty much nothing inside, and a tiny bathroom that doesn’t even have lights. Some of my friends cleaned the bathroom while 2/3 others had to turn on the flashlights on their phones so they could see what they’re doing. The thing is, the building wasn’t dirty. There was no rubbish everywhere, they kept it as clean as they could with what they have.
After we were done cleaning, we went outside to join the kids and help the color pictures of Donald Duck, Winnie the Pooh, and some other cartoon characters. I could tell that they’ve never seen these characters before because they didn’t know that Pooh was supposed to be yellow with a red shirt. But anyway, there was this one kid who was SO adorable, he just colored everything with whatever color was closest to him.
Then, after we finished coloring all the pictures, we taught them to sing and dance. It wasn’t really teaching them, though, we were laughing way too hard and just had way too much fun. I don’t think any of the kids knew what we were doing, they just laughed and played along. We sang the Hokey Pokey, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and London Bridge is Falling Down, where we made arches with our arms and tried to catch the kids. I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling the whole time and I don’t think anyone else could either. I was so happy to see those kids smiling and laughing.
They couldn’t speak in Malay, let alone English, so we couldn’t talk to them, but I think even with the language barrier, we could still connect.
After we finished singing and dancing, we provided a KFC lunch for them and tried to get to know them better. I think most of my friends tried to use gestures and sign language to talk to the kids. I took a photo with this kid, and I think he’s never seen a camera before because when I showed him the picture, he looked so confused and just touched the screen of my camera and he looked at me. Then I turned the camera off, and he looked even more confused, turning the camera around and pressing some buttons. It was endearing and sad at the same time.
The chief/leader of this community, Mr. Jafar (no not the Disney Jafar) told us the story of how they came to Malaysia. How many of them were killed, raped and beaten, and how some of them died at sea on the boats. I was already an emotional wreck on that day, but listening to his story was the, shall I say, the straw that broke the camel’s back? I just started crying and my friends had to calm me down. I wasn’t really loud or anything, I didn’t disrupt the speech or made everyone look at me, I just couldn’t breathe and tears were just pouring out of my eyes like a waterfall. I just don’t understand why people have to be killed/beaten/etc. for something that they believe in.
Before we left, each of us gave one of the kids a blanket to symbolize warmth and safety. I was so sad to leave those kids, but it wasn’t like I could stay there forever. I wish I could do more for them but for this is all I can do for now. Maybe in the future, I can come back and help them more.
If you’ve read this post until the end, thank you! I hope you liked this story and I hope that you are now more aware of the Rohingya refugees. I think that everyone in the world deserves to live their lives without fear even though they don’t all share the same beliefs. Maybe one day, we will be able to live in a world like that.
Thanks for reading.