How can we help the Rohingya?


“I just received bad news from my village,” said a Rohingya refugee who sat next to my dad in a mosque on Friday.

The man is no stranger to the people who frequent the mosque in our kampung. Working as a contractor in Bukit Mertajam, he has been living in our neighbourhood for a couple of years now with his family.

“What is it?” asked my dad, concerned.

“My family back home have lost their house,” he said. “The army has burned the house. They managed to escape, six of them. But my nieces, aged 13 and 15, were caught and raped. I feel so helpless and sad.”

“How can I help?” Dad asked.

“Please pray for them. Please pray for all of us,” the man said.

As my dad left the mosque, he was still glued to the prayer mat, deeply immersed in his prayers.

When he reached home, Dad shared his encounter with the Rohingya with us. As we gave the Rohingya the gift of our prayers, I saw Dad sink into deep thought. Clearly the news had affected him.

“What can we do to help?” I asked.

Dad smiled bitterly. “A few weeks ago,” he said, “funds to help the Rohingya were collected in the mosque. People chipped in money to be sent to Rakhine. I gave only a few ringgit. I wasn’t sure how much of the collection would end up with the Rohingya.”

For the remainder of the day, I was occupied with the same thought, “How do we, the ordinary citizens of Malaysia, help the persecuted Rohingya?”

It’s not an easy question to answer. However, I remained optimistic and spent a few hours browsing the net, trying to see if someone else would have a solution or at least some suggestions. I ended up with these:

  1. Educate yourself on the situation in Rakhine.
  2. Spread the word.
  3. Sign petitions and join protests.
  4. Donate.
  5. Get involved in whatever way you can.

With villages being burnt, people abducted, concentration camps created, women raped and children killed for the past 25 years, I cannot help but be sceptical of the suggestions. I believe everyone who has already done all the above would share my sentiments.

So we’ve educated ourselves about the Rohingya, shared our learning, signed petitions and made donations. However, the question remains: What can we do to help?

“If only I had the power and wealth to ship every remaining Rohingya out of Rakhine,” I thought. But then again, how about the others? How about other refugees all around the world? Surely their life is a precious as the Rohingya’s.

My thoughts were disturbed by the sound of Dad’s motorbike returning from the mosque. Stepping into the house, he said, “He was not at the mosque. I looked for him after Asar, Maghrib and Isyak. He wasn’t there.”

“Why were you looking for him?” I asked.

“I took out some money for him. I know he has been sending money to his family who are still in Rakhine. That’s all I could think of to help. Maybe it is not enough to stop the violence, but at least it is better than talking about it without doing anything.”

I nodded.

“I hope you find him soon,” I said.