The Pied Piper

Written by: Sheila Leech. Published on 12th July 2018

I felt like the pied piper. A small crowd of beautiful children followed me everywhere I walked, calling, "Good morning, how are you?" Their broad smiles showed perfect white teeth. Nut-brown limbs poked through the holes in the tattered rags with which they clothed themselves. These children are used to strangers wandering between the bamboo-framed shelters they call home.

Life in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh has taken on a sense of semi-permanence - a feeling of being settled. Raised pathways between houses allow residents to stay out of the mud, and building structures have become more sturdy. Small daycare facilities are available as long as the children are only taught in English or Rohingya. No Bangla language is permitted.

Some things do not change. The lines and lines of people squatting under tin roofs in the oppressive heat of the monsoon season, waiting to receive handouts. Today it was red plastic buckets and sacks of rice along with a hot meal.

There are still controls on where people can go and what they can do. More importantly, these people remain stateless. No papers, no permanency, no identity. No opportunity to move on, no opportunity to prosper if they stay. Trapped -- safe, fed and watered -- but not wanted.

"Our" clinic has been open for seven weeks. More than 2,000 patients have been registered. Every day around 70-80 patients show up to be seen -- tiny children clinging to their black-clad mothers, whose eyes (the only part visible) portray sadness, concern and at times desperation. Old men lean on their sticks, young children run around playing on the cement floor in baking heat under the tin roof. Every now and again, the air stirs and cool air brings relief for a moment as the battery-operated fans oscillate.

The doctor is busy. I sit down with him. A young mother holds a listless child on her lap. The little girl is 3 years old. According to her notes she weighs 9 kg. She has a high fever, is not eating or drinking and has a productive cough. Her oxygen saturation is low, and I can see her rapid shallow breathing. She appears to be very, very ill. She needs to be in hospital. The Bangladeshi doctor diagnoses pneumonia and sends her off with the appropriate treatment. I wonder what will happen to her.

Her place is immediately taken by an older lady. Clad completely in black, she barely looks at the doctor. She keeps her eyes averted. She seems to be hyper ventilating. The doctor feels she is suffering some kind of trauma or PTSD. I put my hand on her back, shocked to feel how thin she is. We ask about her story. She is alone. She arrived in the camp about three months ago but got separated from her children on the journey here. She clearly needs trauma counselling, but here in the camp that's not going to happen.

There are over half a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh -- even 800,000. That's 800,00 stories of suffering and loss, of grief and disappointment. Of hopelessness. I am overwhelmed by a sense of impotence. Whatever we do, however many people we help, it is a drop in a very large bucket. Pray that the bucket will be filled with generous acts of kindness, mercy and love and that it will spill over and drench the Rohingya people. Pray they will not be forgotten.

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