Preface: So, I've been traveling throughout Bangladesh for the past two weeks visiting and photographing stories in numerous camps packed with Bihari refugees (stranded Pakistanis) alongside of OBAT Helpers, an organization based out of the USA. The situation is complex and for context you can read more about it here. -----
I can see it in your eyes.
Your joy is contagious and doesn't make sense to me; your resolve is unwavering, and the way you love others is with the type of love that only comes from one place - intense pain and struggle. The conditions of your life tell one story, but your eyes tell a different one. They tell a story of dignity and fierce determination. They tell a story that despite living in hellish conditions, it has not defined you. They tell a story of hope and an unspoken knowledge that there will be a day that things will be better.
Your overwhelming generosity and kindness have caused my heart to burst. I'll never understand how individuals that have so little give so much. And, in an effort to learn as much about your lives as possible, to create space for you to share your stories, it's you that have taught me infinite lessons and humbled me. I am filled with serious gratitude and inspired by the fight that you have in you.
It's hard to describe the conditions of the camps that we have visited. I heard a story of a man who lived in one of the camps. Someone asked a man if he was concerned about going to hell and he responded by saying, "I'm already living in hell." The camps are overpopulated with around 6-8 and sometimes more people sharing an 8x8 space. There is no privacy. Sanitation is an ongoing issue with hundreds of people sharing toilets and showers, constantly having to wait in lines to use them. Health care is extremely difficult to access and discrimination from the Bangladeshi government is a way of life. Access to education is becoming more readily available and is one of the most effective ways for the Biharis to not just dream about better lives, but to have them.
In the past two weeks, I've snapped hundreds of photos and met numerous people with heartbreaking, yet incredibly courageous and inspirational stories. I listened as one man told me about how a micro finance loan allowed him to open up a small convenience store, which he has steadily grown for the past 10 years and is preparing to move to another, better location. His shop has allowed him to buy a house for his family and he is extremely proud. I listened as one teenager shared her story of her commitment to education and her dreams of going to university so she can earn enough money to move her family out of the camp. There was a young girl who moved from the country to work for an older couple and attend school to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor so she can help others. We listened to the story of another teenage girl who told us about how gang violence had resulted in her home being torched, along with numerous other homes in the camp - and how the only thing that she took with her during the fire was her report card because she had all A's; when we asked one man about his most prized possession, he told us in tears that it is his mother.
As we listened to story after story, I couldn't help but notice a common theme: dreams for a better future and refusal to accept things the way they are. And that, to me, is one of he most beautiful and inspirational things in the world. Things aren't okay, but steadily (and mostly because of education), they are getting better.
Below are some images from these past few weeks. If you're interested in learning more or directly helping the Bihari refugees, please visit www.obathelpers.com