‘We Can Now Collect Food With Dignity’
On International Women’s Day (Thursday 8 March), some of the women who made the dangerous journey to Bangladesh, after escaping violence in Myanmar, tell their stories of violence and terror. They also share their thoughts on the future and how they are working to feed and care for their families.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided 90,000 Rohingya with electronic vouchers, that families can use to buy the food they need from stores. These vouchers are being given to women wherever possible to empower them to make food decisions for their families.
Amina has been living in Bangladesh for one-and-a-half years. She has a husband and two children.
“I came to Bangladesh because of the extreme violence. Violence broke out — people were being beaten to death, driven away from their houses and couldn’t move around freely. So when we fell prey to such extreme threats, we had to escape.
“When hostility began, none of us had the time to sit or eat. We all ran away when the firing started. In the beginning, we would search for food in different places, sometimes even begging. Later, we started collecting food from WFP.”
Amina now has one of WFP’s electronic food cards, and she can choose the food that she and her family need from a store. These cards increase dietary diversity and empower women to make the food choices for their families.
“This is truly beneficial for us. We can find most of the items here and we can secure our food supply in peace and eat in peace. We don’t need to hustle in a queue to collect food items. We can now collect food with dignity.
“Now people know me as a cardholder. I also know people working for WFP and they treat me with respect and care, and I really like it.”
Sayeraas been in Bangladesh for the last six months with eight family members. Her message for the world:
“We want justice. For all the violence we witnessed, all the lives lost, we want justice. Only then I will go back to Myanmar, or I am ready to die here.”
Fatema and her four children have been living in Bangladesh for one year. While fleeing violence in Myanmar, she and her husband became separated from each other. She hasn’t been able to find him since.
“I ran for my life immediately. I only managed to take my children with me. I don’t know where my husband is; I barely escaped with other village members.”
Fatema received her first electronic food card from WFP three months ago. “I am very grateful to the people here. I got food from WFP, everyone helped us. With the food card, we can buy our own food when we want and as per our choice. I am immensely grateful for this as it restored my dignity.
“I feel stronger. I can come and get only my preferred food items freely. I don’t have to worry about standing in a queue. I feel safer and more in control.”
Khodiza has been a refugee for more than thirty years, when her family fled violence in Myanmar and found safety in Bangladesh.
She has raised her family in a refugee camp; all six were born in Bangladesh.
“My father and my mother were killed in Myanmar. It was then I decided that there was nothing left for me there, so my husband and I left for Bangladesh. We shifted to this camp (Balukhali) only a year back when more people from Myanmar started arriving here.”
“In Myanmar we had a lot. A lot. Abundance of food, land, we owned our own land, cattle, everything. But we had to leave everything behind.
“When so many people from Myanmar started arriving here, I still had two of my sisters living there. Then, a few days back, my sisters stopped receiving my calls. Just two days ago, a neighbour received my call. They told me that my sisters were no more, both my sisters had died. I have lost my voice mourning for them; I miss them so much.
“For a while, I used to stand in a queue for food supply. I am grateful for whatever people have given us. But the food I buy using this food card, it’s much more convenient. I can do my shopping in quiet, no chaos and I don’t have to stand in a line with of hundreds of people.
“Now I can decide what to buy today and what to buy for the next days. I can even buy my food supply on any day. I buy dried fish, garlic, fresh vegetables, spices, anything according to my needs.”
Before the outbreak of violence in Myanmar in August 2017, WFP was providing food and support to 34,000 registered Rohingya refugees who had been in Bangladesh for as long as 30 years. Their camps have now grown into the largest in the world, after more than 670,000 people have crossed the border and continue to do so.
Since August 2017, WFP has provided life-saving food assistance to 880,000 refugees. We have established 17 feeding centres to support pregnant and nursing women and children under 5 and provide them with nutrient-rich foods.
Learn more about WFP’s Rohingya response.
Story written by Jessica Lawson.