Not quite sure how it happened, but somehow I was able to integrate myself into a quirky Rohingya family and follow them around the world. Despite the strong language barrier and logistical difficulties, this family has welcomed “Teacher Sophie” into their lives. They’ve taught me what it means to be resilient in a world full of chaos; how to tackle the curveballs that life throws at us head on. I try not to imagine what life would be like without Sarah (her pseudo name) and her family, but these past two weeks have shown me just how fragile life can be — and just how close a genocide that is 8,000 miles away can be.
I met Sarah and part of her family at a temporary refugee shelter in Thailand. Intrigued by their situation and how they came to Thailand, I wanted to learn more. I spent my afternoons teaching English to the women and children at the shelter. The more I taught, the more they revealed their story — and I finally began to understand the Rohingya situation from multiple first hand accounts.
I started to become more involved with the Rohingya situation. I quickly dove into news articles, documentaries, and contacted numerous human rights activists to learn more. While I wanted to do more to help out in Thailand, it was time for me to head back to the States. I left the Rohingya family with the notion that I would never see them again. By an absolute miracle, they arrived in the States about a year later. After reuniting with them, I continued my Rohingya Reunions and traveled to meet Sarah’s other family members in Malaysia.
Sarah was able to bring most of her children to the States, who have been thriving in the American schools. But Sarah is still torn between two worlds: a new world in America and her old world where her family still waits. She stays at home and seeks updates on her family members that are scattered across four countries. After all, they provide the insider information that she needs to learn more about the Rohingya genocide that is currently underway.
On August 28th, as I was out for my morning run in Colorado, I couldn’t stop thinking about Sarah. I had a feeling that something was wrong. The more I thought about her, the more urgency I had to contact her. I stopped on the trail, turned around, and sprinted back home. When I checked my phone, I had 13 missed calls over the past hour; all from Sarah.
She answered on the first ring after I dialed. She mustered up enough broken English to tell me about the situation. Family members were attacked. Neighbors were forced from their homes. It was absolute chaos in her village. They had no choice but to flee.
The unprecedented surge of Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar and pouring into Bangladesh amounted to over 600,000. Among these people included Roshida’s parents and siblings. They fled Myanmar and made it safely to the camps, where I was able to find them several months later. Face to face with genocide.