Would You Celebrate your Birthday with a Refugee Family?

Burmese family

On July 5, 2015, the New York Times published a heart wrenching article, by Thomas Fuller and Chris Buckley, recounting the story of a Rohingya refugee family’s perilous journey from Myanmar to Malaysia. After Buddhist mobs rampaged through villages burning houses and killing people, many Rohingya people chose to flee Myanmar risking their lives. The Rahman family was one of them. Dil Muhammad Rahman took the journey to Malaysia first and was later joined by his wife Hasinah and kids. The NYtimes article highlighted this family’s suffering at the hands of smugglers and their financial struggles in a land where they are not legally recognized. But the saddest suffering this family endures is the emotional torment of leaving their oldest son Jubair behind in Myanmar. Please read the full NYtimes story here before proceeding to the remainder of this article.

A Very Special Happy Birthday:

On the same month when the NYtimes article was published, KARAMAH’s friend and supporter Mariam Mehter launched a LaunchGood campaign to raise funds for this cause and many people donated generously. On the day of her birthday, Mariam decided to celebrate in a very special way. She traveled to Malaysia ( Mariam’s trip was fully paid from her own pocket) and met with the family to inform them of her LaunchGood campaign and to offer them guidance on how to proceed with the first installment of the donations. KARAMAH commends Mariam’s great effort in mobilizing to alleviate some of the pain of this refugee family. By sharing Mariam’s experience with you, which she describes as “truly heart-warming and enlightening,” we hope to highlight the plight of the Rohingya refugees and what we as individuals and communities can do to make a difference. Read what Mariam had to say about her experience below:

Our visit:

Rohingya family

We arrived at the dilapidated shack shared by multiple families with some gifts for the 3 kids. While the kids enjoyed their new toys and puzzle of the world in the kitchen area, we huddled with Dil Muhammad and Hasinah around a mattress on the floor of a small room. The mattress was the only piece of furniture in the room, but this particular room allowed us some privacy. Our translator Kabir, also Rohingya from Burma, currently resides in Kuala Lumpur and worked with the reporters on the original story. He relayed our story to the couple along with messages sent by the donors, letters from readers of the NYTimes article and those that were moved to provide assistance to the family via our LaunchGood campaign. We brought the family in cash the first of 3 installments (we exchanged $3500 of the $11,862 you raised into Malaysian Ringgits) will allow the family to pay off all their debts and have around $800 remaining. Aside from any fees associated from retrieving or exchanging the currency of the funds, all of the dollars raised from the LaunchGood online campaign, were/will be gifted to the family.

The family’s reaction:

Rohingya family3

The brothers, along with welcomed neighborhood children, assembled their puzzle of the world and proudly shared their achievement with us. The baby girl enjoyed her gift of a toy duck on wheels and alternated from her watching her brothers in the kitchen to the bedroom seeking the comfort of her parents’ arms. Dil Muhammad Rahman expressed his gratitude: “thousands and thousands of thanks to you all. A hidden angel has just come to us.” And Hasinah in tears, claimed, “we don’t have anyone in the world besides you.”

Updates on the family:

The family is in contact with their oldest son Jubair and Hasinah shared that in her last conversation with him about a month ago, he had pleaded to reunite with her in Bangladesh, offering to beg on the streets to provide for the family. As Hasinah wiped away tears, I could only imagine a mother’s heartbreak at knowing she is unable to quell his grief and desperation. Dil Muhammad is constantly seeking work but is often prevented from attaining as he lacks an official UN refugee card. He’s submitted multiple requests for one, but the distribution is limited and the process is tedious. He has been arrested three times since the story ran, just for being in public without a card. One of the times the police only released him after he paid a bribe of 100 Ringgit. He is still struggling to find work and often only works around 7 to 15 days a month. Hasinah said she hasn’t left their home in 8 months. Junaid, the second oldest, is picking up Malay fast and is somewhat conversant. Both he and his younger brother continue to attend school although the family hasn’t paid in at least 5 months.

A Godsend:

My friend that I mentioned earlier proved to be a key component of this visit. Nur Aziz is of Malaysian descent and works in Kuala Lumpur. She joined this trip on a whim knowing very little about this family’s story. It was touching to see her sincere concern for the family. Watching her experience, the same range of emotions that I went through in first learning of this family reminded me of how grateful we are to the donors who helped alleviate some of this family’s pain with their concern for them. When Nur learned that the Rahman family eats only rice, sometimes with oil, for each meal, and that they have meat only once a month at most, she determined that we would be back that afternoon to eat with the family. Considering that food is cheap in Penang (prior to meeting the family, Nur and I ate prepared bags of rice with meat and sauce for about $.50), this was very hard to hear. We returned with Biryani (fancy seasoned rice with beef usually reserved for special occasions) to eat with them and some of their neighbors on their open “yard” area (concrete slab). We learned about some of the other refugees in the home, such as one young boy who fled from a refugee camp without his parents to escape to Malaysia via an unstable boat over the course of one horrifying month. He has managed to climb to the top of his class and remains motivated. Nur is eager to raise more awareness about the situation and rally more efforts in Kuala Lumpur where it will be much easier to coordinate aid. She has also offered to handle the delivery of the remaining donation installments (which are still held at LaunchGood in the meantime) and even offered the family accommodations in her home if they wanted to travel to Kuala Lumpur to try and submit requests for the UN refugee status.

In gratitude:

I wanted to thank everyone who expressed their concerns for this family and the greater Rohingya refugee community. Your generous contributions to the LaunchGood campaign are making a world of difference already. Knowing that the success of any one of these children means representation and a voice for the whole Rohingya refugee community exaggerates this effort in helping one family. I’d like to thank the writers of the NYTimes article, Thomas Fuller and Chris Buckley for bringing attention to this issue and for capturing Dil Muhammad and Hasinah’s family in such a raw way. They went above and beyond in coordinating this effort despite their limited capacity as reporters. I also owe Chris Blauvent, the Founder of LaunchGood a ton of gratitude for helping to set up the campaign, and featuring it on their website. He was also able to minimize the fees so that more of your Dollars would go directly to the family making this crowd-funding platform most attractive to us. Lastly, thank you dearly to Nur for carrying on these efforts in KL where so much more can be accomplished. This trip wouldn’t have been the same without her. The authors and Nur have agreed to share their contact information to those donors who would like to follow up in any capacity:

Thomas Fuller- tfuller@nytimes.com Chris Buckely – christopher.buckley@nytimes.com Nur Aziz- nurazlina@gmail.com I am also reachable at mariam.mehter@gmail.com and would love to hear from you as well!

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