“I will send her to college if possible. I want her to be either a lawyer or a doctor,” says Eman Hossain, proud father of 14-year-old Khotija. Eman and his family live in Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, home to some 13,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who have been in exile for more than two decades.
Khotija’s father, having completed only two years of schooling, relies heavily on his youngest daughter to read official documents and help the family make informed decisions; “She can explain documents and data in the food ration card and medical prescriptions.”
With the support of the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR, the talented grade seven student is attending Ashar Alo secondary school in Kutupalong camp . In 2013, Bangladeshi authorities allowed expansion of the schools to grade six and seven to offer secondary education in the refugee camps. Khotija and 98 other girls are making the most of the opportunity, hoping for a brighter future.
“My elder sister was married at 17 because there was no opportunity for her to study further or find employment,” explains Khotija.
The high school offers all the subjects under the national Bangladesh curriculum in addition to Burmese language learning. The goal is to equip the children with skills needeto build their lives back in Myanmar, when repatriation becomes possible.
Acting Head Teacher Faruque Hossain says most of his female students are achieving better results than the boys in their classes; “They feel inspired at the same time when they see Bangladeshi girls studying and working alongside men.”
“Most of the girls are interested in technology and they rigorously attend the computer course. Boys often venture out and interact with the local population. Due to social custom, the girls are confined within their homes and schools. They are totally detached from the world outside. Education is the only means to quench their thirst for knowledge,” says Faruque.
For Khotija, not even the torrential rain of the monsoons will keep her from school and a brighter future; “I enjoy school where I can meet my friends and learn new things every day.”.
There are some 7700 school going children living in the two official refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the IKEA Foundation are working together to improve the lives of refugees by improving access to light, renewable energy and schooling.