International Day of People with Disabilities: Zokiya’s story
17-year-old Zokiya shares her experiences of fleeing violence in Myanmar and confronting challenges like accessibility and discrimination in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
In 2017, Zokiya and her family were among hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people who fled extreme violence in Myanmar, including mass killings that claimed some of her relatives.
Her father was shot but survived and helped the family escape the country. They arrived in Bangladesh among hundreds of thousands of other refugees that year after an arduous and terrifying journey. Zokiya says:
It was not possible to ride on a bus or any local transport. We had to take the path of jungle and hills … we crossed the river by boat. It was an impossible, risky journey.
Zokiya has had a disability since birth that, among other things, affects her legs and impacts her ability to stand or walk. Her older brother carried her the entire way as the family navigated the dangerous terrain, hunger, and other threats.
The difficulties of living in a refugee camp are intensified for Zokiya. She says:
I face many types of discrimination for my disability. I think I will never be able to go to school or a learning centre. Many people tease me and that makes me more mentally vulnerable.
As well as discrimination, Zokiya faces an increased risk of violence because of her disability. Sharma Ojha, CARE Bangladesh field facilitator, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH), says:
Particularly during COVID, the possibility of being abused as a woman in various ways increased. So, the situation of a refugee woman who is also a person with disability is crucially vulnerable.
Steep hills and areas prone to flooding during the monsoon rains dominate the landscape at Cox’s Bazar where the camp is located, compromising Zokiya’s ability to move around safely. Basic services like latrines and bathrooms aren’t always accessible for her. Zokiya says:
The hardest thing about living in the camp is lack of sanitation, lack of space, and monsoons. When I came here, as a person with disability, the hardest thing to do was going to the latrines.
CARE is working to make camps more accessible for everyone, including those with disabilities. CARE’s WASH team has built accessible latrines with support walking rails, ramps, raised commodes, and pathways for persons with disabilities, and installed solar lighting to make sure the facilities are well lit and maintained. The latrines are also equipped with 50 litre water storage vessels and soap to support cleansing and hand washing, and waste bins. CARE has trained the Rohingya and host community volunteers who conduct daily monitoring and ensure operation, maintenance and replenishment of key items such as soap. MD. Sohel Rana, an Infrastructure Officer on the WASH team, says:
Providing safe water and ensuring hygiene safety on a regular basis is among our top priorities. We always try to make inclusiveness through our interventions and hygiene promotion for persons with disability within the community.
In addition to CARE’s efforts to make the camp more accessible – including providing an accessible toilet near her house – Zokiya says she also has the support of family and neighbours. She says:
My neighbours are always kind and supportive to me. They often help me to collect water and food and are concerned about my needs.
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