Psychological support for Rohingya refugees

Ayesha Begum is 22 years old. In early September, she and her three children took refuge in Bangladesh after her husband was killed in Myanmar. Today, Ayesha and her children live with her brothers in a temporary shelter on the edge of Kutupalong camp. She takes part in a parents’ club organized by HI, which provides psychosocial support to mothers living as refugees.

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Once a week, Ayesha can talk with other women in the same situation as her. The parents’ club allows her to share her stress, sadness, and her feelings of isolation. “I don’t have any dreams now,” Ayesha says.I just want to survive and to take care of my children. I hope they’ll help us.”

HI's parents’ club brings together ten or so mothers and, for some sessions, their children. The sessions are held at the same time in several places ­– in Nayapara, in the Kutupalong “mega camp” and in the surrounding shanty towns.

“In mixed groups of established and new refugee mothers, we spend 45 minutes talking through the anxiety these mothers are feeling,” explains HI project manager Ahasan Ud Daula. “The people who arrived recently share their trauma caused by violence, the stress of having to flee, and what it’s like to be a refugee. HI’s psychosocial officer encourages them to talk with their friends, relatives, and to share their feelings. He also asks the refugees who arrived 20 years ago how they overcame their shock.”

These women are from a culture where mental pain, depression, and trauma are never discussed, so they need to have these concepts explained to them. They also need to know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that help is available. Without psychosocial support now, the impact of this trauma on the lives of both the adults and their children could be exacerbated in years to come.

HI also uses the parents’ club to provide mothers with information on best hygienic practices, children’s health, life in the camp, and the humanitarian assistance available to them.

Recreational activities for children

Our teams also organize children’s clubs where kids in the camp can take part in recreational activities, including drawing. For children who go through the distressing experience of being a refugee, losing their home, school and sometimes their parents, they need a space and time to be kid again. Playing and drawing can be highly therapeutic. 

The children’s club is also a place to solve day-to-day problems and talk through bad experiences. “Recently, the children were shocked by the drowning of one of their friends in a local pond,” Ahasan continues. “A child who had been knocked into the water drowned and the others who tried to rescue him were only just saved by a group of adults. The children were shocked and asked what had happened, why he was dead and how they could play in safety.”

Talking about the accident makes it easier to overcome the trauma as well as find practical solutions to prevent it from happening again.

Rohingya Crisis in Bangladesh

Since August, more than 600,000 Rohingyas have crossed the Myanmar border and taken refuge in Bangladesh. They are exhausted, frightened, and in desperate need of basic aid, psychosocial support, and rehabilitation care. Handicap International has more than 200 staff on the ground, working to support the most vulnerable, including people with disabilities. Support a refugee family like Ayesha's by giving a tax-deductible gift today.