Katherine Eastman, “Mission: South Windsor couples bring aid to Rohingya,” Journal Inquirer May 5, 2018
It’s mostly children and old people living on dry, parched earth in ramshackle shelters made of plastic tarps and bamboo, said a local delegation of town officials and religious leaders that recently returned from a week of providing aid at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.
And while the monsoon season is quickly approaching, promising even worse conditions and certain death for many from flooding, mudslides, and disease, the Rohingya survivors who fled hate crimes in Myanmar are showing perseverance, the group said.
Dr. M. Saud Anwar, mayor of South Windsor, and his wife, Dr. Yusra Anis-Anwar, along with Town Councilman and Rabbi Jeffrey Glickman and his wife, Mindy, traveled to Bangladesh in late March to bring medical relief and hope.
Notably missing from the camp are people ages 17 to 30, they said.
Men and women in this age range were targeted and killed, the rabbi said. Children make up about 65 percent of the camp’s population.
It’s a common story throughout history, he said: “We don’t like you, so let’s get rid of you.”
For the last nine months, more than 1 million Rohingya have made the long, arduous trek to Bangladesh from Myanmar to escape government-sanctioned violence that’s escalated in recent years against the largely Muslim population in a nation dominated by Buddhists. Their citizenship was taken away in the mid-1950s, and more recently, Myanmar security forces have been accused of rape, murder, torture, and setting Rohingya homes on fire.
They’re now known as the most persecuted people in the world, Anwar said.
After walking 600 miles in an 18-day journey, the Rohingya people arrived in waves at the refugee camp — most of them women carrying the elderly and small children — leaving behind destroyed homes and an unknown number of dead family members and friends.
Although Bangladesh has allowed the refugees to settle on 6,000 acres of state-owned land, they are what Jeffrey Glickman called a “reluctant host nation,” so much so that officials have forbidden the Rohingya from learning their language or finding jobs.
The South Windsor group left for Bangladesh on March 22, traveling for about 24 hours before reaching the area known as Cox’s Bazar. Each person carried 50 pounds of food and medical products for the refugees.
Despite sparse living conditions, the rabbi said the Rohingya people were happy to go to sleep at night without worry of violence.
Food — lentils, cooking oil, and rice — is handed out once a month. Unfortunately, the system isn’t always reliable, Mindy Glickman said.
Overall, there are about 150 people affiliated with nonprofit charities helping at the camp, she said.
The Glickmans spent most of their time volunteering in the temporary learning center for children run by the organization OBAT Helpers, a nonprofit based in Indianapolis.
The children who attended school were rewarded with an egg and a carrot.
The Glickmans said they shared music and stories with the children, teaching them songs and sending messages of hope.
The rabbi told the children a story about the brave Rohingya people, who have “a good mind and good heart,” describing how they lost their homes, but have the power to care for each other and work toward freedom. He used string while telling his tale, wrapping it around each of his fingers for every loss they suffered, and ending the story by pulling it off his hand to unleash a chain that represented their liberation.
The children quickly memorized the string story, and taught it to others in the camp using their own language, Glickman said.
Most of the children in the camp were busy taking care of even younger children, he said.
They had all learned the phrase “How are you?” in English, and would follow the volunteers around the camp, greeting them with big smiles.
Mindy Glickman said the refugees told them of their harrowing journey, and how they felt lucky to now be living without the fear of being shot.
Although they are safe from the Myanmar campaign of persecution, Mindy Glickman said the women in the camp are afraid to be outside at night. All volunteers must leave at 4 p.m. each day, and there is no security.
The Glickmans said they didn’t see any crime, but heard that it does occur.
Anwar and his wife, Anis-Anwar, primarily worked in a medical clinic within the camp, where very few doctors tended to 600 or more patients a day.
Many of the refugees entered the camp with chronic illnesses and injuries, including gunshot wounds and broken bones. Post-traumatic stress disorder, dehydration, and nutrition deficiencies were also prevalent, Anwar said.
They all had stories about family members who didn’t make it, were imprisoned, or displaced, he said. Still, it was heartwarming to see children who had endured so much and were forced to grow up so fast smiling, hesaid.
More help needed
Although the South Windsor residents, have returned from their trip, they’ve left an indelible mark on the camp.
Funded by donations from area residents, the South Windsor Temporary Learning Center was erected in the camp. The group also helped to create a community kitchen and develop a health center for women and children.
“It’s a small step,” Anwar said. “A lot more needs to be done. We don’t expect people to travel, but they can empower people doing that work.”
Mindy Glickman noted that the persecution of the Rohingya has not been deemed genocide, because that would trigger action by the United Nations. Instead, it’s considered ethnic cleansing, she said, adding that part of the mission is to trigger the word genocide to force U.N. support.
The world community must unite to protect the Rohingya people from the looming threat from the monsoon season at the camp or certain death if they are forced to return to Myanmar without protection, Anwar said.
The monsoon season in Bangladesh starts soon, bringing weeks of rain that will turn the dry barren earth into mudslides of destruction.
Anyone who wants more information or to help the effort in Bangladesh can go to the website