Fostering hope and love for Rohingya refugees

Dr. Omar Reda, April 2019

I spent one week in the world’s largest refugee camp just outside of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which hosts Project Untangled, a program that creates safe spaces and healing environments for trauma #survivors. There are five components of the program; education, training, resources, safe spaces, and culturally-sensitive clinical care. These components were thoughtfully assembled together in order to effectively care for large numbers of traumatized populations in resource-limited settings.

I believe deeply in empowering local communities to take an active role in being part of the solution. I refuse to see the #Rohingya refugees as the problem and refrain from coming across as the “expert” when it comes to their suffering. They are the subject matter experts and they are the ones who need to tell their stories in order to find meaning and healing. So, during my time in the camp, I decided to have the cultural humility to sit down with members and leaders of the refugee community and their assigned NGO staff to build a system of care that leaves long-lasting impact and ensures consistency and continuity of care. I had the honor of serving 6,000 refugees in Camp 4, working with the #MedGlobal and the #OBAT Helpers teams.

Given the importance of psycho-social education to combat stigma, I conducted a safe space and a focus group with parents, where we explored themes of their identity, sense of dignity, stress-management, and tips for safe and healthy parenting, and navigating trauma through family bonding, in addition to how to care for ourselves while caring for our loved ones. I was extremely humbled by how much resilience these folks exhibited despite the traumas they have encountered and the severe pains they have endured. I was also very pleased to learn of how receptive they were to the importance of emotional well being in the long journey of healing they embark on, and of their deep and sincere commitment to repair family ties and provide safety for their children.

It was heart-warming to see fathers and sons engaging in play and art therapeutic activities that emphasize the importance of eye contact, safe touch, hugs, smiles, greetings, and heart-to-heart conversations. I saw the sparkles in the eyes of fathers as they enjoyed their children and recommitted to be active, invested, unconditionally-loving, and emotionally-available caregivers. In return, children’s eyes lit up and their faces beamed with pride as they felt comforted by the new energy of healthy family dynamics. Once children notice their parents’ delight in them they start to have true happiness in their hearts, and the whole world becomes a better place for everyone.

It is through the genuine expression of healing love and caring for one another that we open channels of communication and build bridges of trust that can help us see the light at the end of a dark and long tunnel, even while enduring the dismal conditions of a crowded refugee camp.

I am very honored that my modest efforts provided a small but a much-needed glimpse of hope to a community in the midst of despair. It is my immense privilege to be of service to those in need worldwide. It was not only my ethical duty to serve the refugees in Bangladesh, but it was also a true honor.

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