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PACE: Empowering young refugees to realise their dreams

Neha Patel, PACE Chair
10 February 2023

PACE has a long legacy of using education to help lift children out of poverty. Through a new partnership with Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB), a Malaysian NGO which runs educational centers for refugees in Johor, we hope to make life-changing, quality education available to more young Rohingya people.

We will begin by funding the IGCSE programme and financing measures that will help CSB improve their secondary school curriculum and facilities. In the coming months, we’ll be offering volunteering opportunities for families, students and staff to bring the full power of our UWCSEA community to improve the lives of CSB’s refugee community. By facilitating a wide range of activities – from family service trips, mentoring and tutoring programmes, to teacher training workshops, we hope to improve the lives of the wider CSB’s refugee community. 

Where are Rohingya Refugees Now?

Once we had country & thought it fair, look in the atlas you’ll find it there.
– W.H Auden from Refugee Blues

Rohingyas, as of today are struggling to lead a safe and respectable life. All of this while living outside of their birthplaces – Myanmar. Rohingyas were forced to flee Myanmar in August 2017 due to targeted violence against their community. The Rohingya people have faced decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness, and targeted violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Such persecution has forced Rohingya women, girls, boys, and men into Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia for many years.

It’s a double whammy then, that the world’s struggling economies are forced to open their doors to thousands of lives. Governments and communities are scrambling for laws in order to support hordes of refugees that arrive in their countries every year. Refugees in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Bangladesh mostly seek temporary livelihoods, while waiting for resettlement to a third country, a process that could take years. 

Some refugees flee to Malaysia and Indonesia by sea between the months of November and April when the seas are calm. Thousands embarked on never-ending sea journeys. Their plight was worsened due to the pandemic forcing governments to shut their borders as a precautionary measure. 

Countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia are not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its protocol. Hence, there is no asylum system regulating the status and rights to the education of children. 

Children are the most vulnerable lot in such crisis times. They are forced to live in extremely congested camps often exposing them to hazards like fire, harassment, and malnourishment. Many local NGOs have stepped into neighboring Malaysia to provide basic necessities like food, clothes, shelter, and healthcare. While these are the most urgent and life-saving support in demand; education is often overlooked. Education is empowering and also a basic human right.

The PACE community this year has partnered with Cahaya Surya Bhakti, a non-profit that provides primary and secondary education to the children of Rohingya refugees thus allowing them to dream of a future beyond their illegal status in Malaysia.

A world where they can thrive independently and fearlessly. Do have a read here, on PACE’s efforts to support CSB in Johor, Malaysia. CSB is a dynamic, grassroots organisation based in Johor, Malaysia. It was founded in 2013 to support Rohingya refugee families from Myanmar – and help educate their children. This year we will ask the UWCSEA community to come together once again to show their support for the value of education. To raise funds for this worthy cause, a fun quiz night was held recently, read all about it here.

New Resolutions or A New Life?

Their struggles remind us of the facility and preciousness of human life, and the resilience of the human spirit.  They are a testament to the enduring power of hope and the human capacity to overcome adversity.

As we embark on a new year, I’m once again thinking about the changes I want to make in my own life for 2023. This year, I have made resolutions to spend less time on social media, work on my flexibility/mobility and to take more risks (without fearing failure). I am hoping these resolutions translate into a “new life” or at the very least a “new purpose”.

And yet, for the Rohingya refugees living in Malaysia, the prospect of starting a new life is not just a resolution — it is a daily struggle and one they cannot afford to abandon.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group from Myanmar who have been subjected to persecution and violence for decades. In 2017, a military crackdown forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring countries, including Malaysia. Many Rohingya refugees arrive in Malaysia after a perilous journey by sea. The voyage can take weeks, and many refugees suffer from dehydration, starvation and illness. Some do not survive the journey.

Meet D-Begum, 17 years old, a student of CSB for 6 years

Dilshan Begum, a CSB student who came to Malaysia six years ago shares in this video – the challenge of maintaining her focus on her studies in the face of intense pressure from her community to get married now that she has passed through puberty. Begum is only 17 years old and is lucky to have supportive parents who are willing to stand up to these members of her community – but nonetheless, she finds it hard to constantly be the subject of gossip and questioning about her choices to pursue education rather than an early marriage. Begum is one of CSB’s most promising students and PACE hopes to support her in her future studies. PACE is fund-raising to support Begum and others like her who remain resilient and determined to build a better future for themselves and their families. Begum is part of a community of survivors, who face daily pressure to give up on education. For the children in this community, we hope to raise enough money to solidify an education pathway to a new life.

As we reflect on the past year and consider our own goals for the future, we ask you to keep the Rohingya refugees front of mind. These individuals have faced unimaginable hardships and persecution in their homeland and have had to undertake a dangerous and uncertain journey to seek safety and a better life. Their struggles remind us of the facility and preciousness of human life, and the resilience of the human spirit. They are a testament to the enduring power of hope and the human capacity to overcome adversity.

We hope to bring the UWCSEA Community together to provide them with a pathway to higher education – and help them build a brighter future in their new home. Starting a new life is not only for new year resolutions but for Rohingya refugees, it is their only chance for a better life.