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Bangladesh: In the world’s largest refugee camp, a “place of peace.”

Sufaira lives in Rohingya refugee Camp 16, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by CARE Bangladesh

Sufaira lives in Rohingya refugee Camp 16, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by CARE Bangladesh

Thousands of girls like Sufaira live in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The camps are not a healthy place for girls to grow up, which is why CARE Bangladesh runs 12 Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS), locally known as the “Shantikhana,” (literally: “place of peace”) across eight camps, the largest temporary home of refugees in the world.

In all, CARE Bangladesh has reached more than 122,000 people to date, 67,597 of them women or girls.

For Sufaira, the Shantikhana was a lifesaver as she grew up, recovering from the violence in her home country that caused her family to flee to Bangladesh. It was there that she learned to sew. She loved being able to create something with her own hands, especially since new clothes are difficult to obtain in refugee camps.

Organizers work hard to ensure the spaces are as safe as the name communicates, offering participants the freedom to express themselves.

In the Shantikhana, girls like Sufaira receive psychosocial support to recover from trauma while also learning life skills, basic literacy, and arithmetic. The spaces also include recreational activities as well as awareness sessions on gender-based violence, human trafficking, polygamy, menstrual hygiene, child abuse, and early marriage.

Sufaira using the sewing machine in the Shantikhana. Photo by CARE Bangladesh.

No more child brides

Early marriage is an ongoing pattern in the Rohingya community. When girls hit puberty, they are seldom allowed to step out of their houses, unless married.

As soon as Sufaira turned 16, there was immense pressure from her family. They were beginning to restrict her movement and insisting she stay home unless married, making it increasingly difficult for her to visit the Shantikhana.

Because of her sessions there, Sufaira was aware of the negative consequences of child marriage and was starting to get worried. She spoke to a case worker with her concerns, and at Sufaira’s urging, the case worker spoke with Sufaira’s mother, who also visited the Shantikhana frequently.

Together, they were able to convince Sufaira’s father, and they all decided that Sufaira will not be given for marriage until she turns 18.

“In my 16 years of living in this earth I have suffered a lot,” Sufaira said. “Now I am happier than before. Now I wish if I can get a chance to learn more, I want to study and also get a job. I think I can do it by getting help from [the] Shantikhana.”

Happy children
Children smile for a photo from their classroom window at Camp 16. Photo by CARE Bangladesh.
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