It is estimated that there are about 500,000 children under the age of 18 living in the camps, with about 300,000 aged three to 14
In a hot and sunny day with the mercury levels likely around 35˚C in the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp area, a group of restless children aged eight to 14 – forcefully displaced from their own land – are enjoying a game of football with their classmates.
The scenario was hitherto unfamiliar in Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar where more than 1.1 million Rohingya people took shelter after their dreams were crushed under the boots of Myanmar Army.
But the scenario has changed now, and Rohingya children are reviving their lost dreams with basic education, sports, life skills, music, and arts in hundreds of learning centres.
Ayub, an 11-year old boy, lives at Kutupalong refugee camp with his mother. Like Ayub, around 145,000 Rohingya children can enjoy their childhood under early learning centres as a new school year begins, according to Unicef.
Described by the UN as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” the brutal offensive forced 750,000 Rohingyas over the border into Bangladesh. They arrived directly into the border areas where aid agencies have been working, providing education to thousands of Rohingya refugee children, for eight years.
It is estimated that there are about 500,000 children under the age of 18 living in the camps, with about 300,000 aged three to 14.
About 50% of the refugee community in Kutupalong camp are children, and despite a wealth of agencies investing in education, only 45% have access to education, this according to a statement of Unicef.
Ayub said that he wants every child to be able to receive an education like him.
Among the aid agencies, Brac is the largest provider of education in the Cox’s Bazar camps ever since the Rohingya crisis unfolded in August 2017.
Currently, more than 58,000 children are learning, and playing in more than 700 learning centres across the camps.
More than 65,000 children aged 3-14 still need access to a classroom.
Like Brac, other aid agencies are also targeting adolescents with educational training to develop their knowledge, and vocational skills.
Currently, the majority of adolescents, aged 15 to 18, do not receive any kind of education in the refugee camps. This group is extremely vulnerable to child marriage, child labour, human trafficking, abuse, and exploitation, according to Unicef.
A Unicef report last year warned that without urgent action, these teenagers are at risk of becoming a lost generation.
“It is through these targeted interventions that Unicef is striving to provide education for the hardest-to-reach children, many of whom have severe vulnerabilities,” Edouard Beigbeder, Unicef Representative to Bangladesh said in a statement.
“Our aim is to ensure they can be equipped with the knowledge, and skills they require to navigate their future,” said Beigbeder.
Rohingya people also hope that early learning classrooms will help to create a sense of normalcy, and prepare the children for whatever lies ahead.
M Nazrul Islam, program head of Brac Education Program, told Dhaka Tribune that there are so many children, but they do not have sufficient space to open learning centres for all of them.
Finding teachers from within the Rohingya community is also a tough job, as there are very few men and women who can work as teachers, and the ones that we find have limited educational qualifications, added Nazrul.
Nazrul said: “Now Brac is operating learning centres at the pre-primary, and primary levels where students get learning materials such as slates, notebooks, paper, and pencils free of cost, along with snacks.”
He claimed that learning centres have changed the lives of the children in the camps, where they have a safe and secure space to enjoy, opportunities to play, and socialize with other children.
He said: “Brac learning centres are places where children are now building their futures, and parents and children can dream together for a better tomorrow."