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One day in Cox's Bazar

26 February 2018, Emergencies

What is it like to be a child in Cox's Bazar?

The search for safety is only the start of the story for children who have fled violence in Myanmar. These diary entries will you give you a glimpse into what they're facing now.

Faisal and his sister, Rehana, are two fictional Rohingya children living in a refugee settlement in Cox's Bazar. In this story, they're living in a tent with their mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and younger sister, Aziza.

Faisal and Rehana are not real but their experiences are – their fictional diary entries help us describe what Rohingya children in Bangladesh are telling us life is like in the refugee settlement that, for now at least, is all they have to call home.

Faisal and Rehan's Story

5.12 am - Faisal

It's still dark outside and I don't want to open my eyes just yet. Tossing and turning, I try to get back to sleep.

There are no mattresses to sleep on and the floor is hard. I feel the cold mud through the plastic ground sheet. Cold air is coming through the holes in the tent that I have already tried to patch up with leaves.

I shut my eyes tight, making a wish that we had more warm clothes and blankets. The nights have become especially cold lately. My bones ache, my back hurts and I am shivering. I try to get close to my mother to feel her warmth.

Next to me, I hear the slow and steady breathing of my mother, two sisters and my two grandparents. We all share this tent, but it's too small for our family.

6:30am - Rehana

My mother gently wakes my sister and me to make sure we have a wash. I normally eat breakfast but not today, because we have no more food.

I take my sister outside to wash her and we defecate next to the tent. We usually don't go to the toilets or the tube wells to wash. I feel uncomfortable when men see me go to the toilets and there are no safe and private spaces for girls and women to wash.

My sister and I are scared to leave the tent.

They say there are kidnappers in the camps. This scares me so much. Even the boys are scared, but no one knows what they look like… the people who take children, they are faceless.

7:09am - Faisal

After leaving our tent and walking for a while, I finally make it to the toilets. They are very dirty and the bad smell is everywhere. I was hoping I'd beat the crowds, but even this early in the day, it is busy.

Today, I won't have time to go for a wash because I have to get food. My last bath was a few days ago and I can feel my arms and chest getting itchy again. I have dust in my hair and the sand in my clothes is making my skin feel raw. I hope I can go for a bath tomorrow.

10:14 am - Faisal

There's always a long queue at the distribution centre because everyone needs help – there are even pregnant women in the queue.

I feel safe at the distribution centre. The people from the relief agencies are very nice to us. It's also good to see the Bangladeshi army, because they keep us all safe.

What I don't like about the distributions is that so many people raise their voices in the queue. Everyone is standing so close together and people keep bumping into me.

12.36am - Rehana

Once my father and brother have returned with the food, my mother, sister and I start preparing lunch.                 
We eat rice, lentils and potatoes here ... It is very different from what we used to eat at home. The taste of our rice and pulses was different, and we were able to eat meat, fish, vegetables and fruits at least once a week.

I'm worried we're not able to eat enough nutritious food. I've been feeling weak and sick lately. I started coughing two weeks ago and it has gotten worse.

Maybe it's also the environment here: there is rubbish everywhere outside the tents, the air smells bad, and the roads and paths in the camp are dirty, dusty and extremely muddy after it rains.

1:31pm - Faisal

After we finish lunch, sitting in the dark tent waiting for the rain to stop, I think about how different our lives used to be.

At home, we used to be able to move around freely in our village. My father worked in the paddy fields and my uncle had a little shop. My sisters and I would sometimes help them in the fields or at the shop, we'd go to the markets with our mother, and we would play outside a lot.

Things are very different now. There is no space to play and we don't have any toys. I found a bottle cap and keep small sticks from the forest, which I use to play with my sisters in the tent.

I wish I could study here, but there are only schools for the young children, and I don't have any books or a pen.

Thinking and hearing about what happened in Myanmar makes me very sad. Some people say we might be able to go back to Myanmar. I don't know whether this is true, but I wish the fighting would stop. I wish we could live peacefully in Myanmar.

2.24pm - Faisal

After prayer, I start the long walk to the forest to collect firewood.

I have to walk through the hills, without any shoes, and it is painful to walk here because of all the rocks. Sometimes, my feet bleed like when I had to flee my home in Myanmar and walk for days.

Boys usually collect firewood because parents have heard stories that girls get harassed, abused and even raped in the forest. That is why my sisters are very scared to go. To be honest, I'm also scared to go to the forest. It's a dangerous place because of the elephants, snakes and other wild animals. The elephants have killed people.

When we go to the forest, we also risk being harassed and beaten. It reminds me of what we experienced in Myanmar and makes me sad. It makes me feel unwanted here in Bangladesh.

Once I have found enough firewood, I make my way back to the camp and our tent. The journey back is always worse because the firewood is heavy. I usually try to collect firewood in the morning to make sure I can walk home when there is sunlight.

4:40pm - Rehana

Faisal should be home with new firewood soon. It's getting dark already.

Once the daylight ends, we don't leave our tent because it is unsafe outside.

There are no lights around the camp so it's easy to get lost and we're never sure who is walking around outside. There is no way to lock our tent and our neighbours have been robbed before. I have trouble falling asleep at night because I am so scared of kidnappers and thieves.

My sister and I start preparing food for the evening. The food we prepare is the same as for the afternoon: rice and lentils. We cook inside our tent, because there's no space outside. We try to open the tent to let air in, but the smoke gets caught inside the tent and makes me cough.

6.35 pm - Rehana

Prayer time is my time for peace.

It's time for our last prayer of the day. It's when my family get together after a long day and my father leads us in prayer. We don't have much space in the tent. My grandmother, mother, sister and I stand close together as my father starts and opens our prayer.

The familiar words bring a sense of calm and connectedness of what holds us together as a family, and as a community.

We've been through a lot together and our sadness is stuck in our memories, but our faith for a better life is strong: faith in a future where we can go home, live freely, practice our religion, study and contribute to our community. These are the things I hope God hears when I pray for a better future.

Faisal and Rehana's story represents the findings of consultations Save the Children conducted with 200 children and 40 mothers. This story is intended to share the perceptions of children – it is not an objective assessment of life in the camps or previously in Myanmar.

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