Giving a new life on remote island
Rahima Khatun was beaming next to the new sewing machine that she had been given. Her husband had gotten a fishing net, and together they were weaving dreams of how they would spend their earnings.
They had been on the island for four months.
"We were getting frustrated as we had nothing to do here. Now, we can do something and earn," Rahima, 40, said.
Her husband, Noor Alam, could barely contain his delight at the prospect of becoming his own man because now he could catch fish and provide for this family.
Having to rely on alms gradually chips away at one's dignity, which is perhaps why the 19,000 Rohingyas in Bhasan Char are eager for work.
Acting on a previous assessment, the government distributed income-generating items to 2,500 Rohingyas in Bhasan Char so that they could take care of their families.
The residents of Bhasan Char, an island on the Bay of Bengal in Noakhali's Hatiya upazila repurposed for Rohingya resettlement, earlier said they had good accommodation but no employment opportunities.
They had long been demanding employment because they did not have cash. At the same time, they also reiterated that they want to return to Myanmar.
In light of this, the Bangladesh government yesterday distributed livelihood items among adult Rohingya men and women.
"The government and various NGOs are giving accommodation and food support to Rohingyas but their demand for livelihood is equally important," Commodore Rashed Sattar, project director of Ashrayan-3 Project, popularly known as the Bhasan Char project, told The Daily Star.
He said a need assessment was done prior to giving them the livelihood items.
For example, fishing nets were given to those who have fishing experience, cobbling tools were given to cobblers, etc.
"We also gave livelihood items to Rohingya women, with which they can do something," he said.
Since the morning yesterday, Rohingyas gathered in front of the Bhasan Char warehouse. They were standing in different queues to collect the livelihood items.
Taslima Begum was walking out from the warehouse with a goat. "If this goat was part of a pair, it would have been better," she said, adding that nothing but this brings joy of Eid to her.
Abdul Halim was in Kutupalong camp for three years, and had worked as a barber there.
"I wanted to do the same job here but I didn't have the equipment. Now that I have got the equipment, I will open a shop here within a day or two. My dream has come true," he said.
A total of 800 fishing nets, 50 rickshaw-vans, 5,000 ducks, 5,000 chickens, 45 grooming items for barbers, 28 sets of cobbler tools, 100 sewing machines, 25 rickshaw-van repair sets and other livelihood items were distributed among the residents of Bhasan Char.
More than one lakh minnows were released in the ponds of the island and fish feed was also distributed.
"Rohingyas will look after the fish. They can eat and sell the fish. This will meet their nutrition demands and also pave the way to earn money," the project director said.
He said more than 2,500 Rohingyas were brought under the livelihood project and a total of 5,000 will come under the scheme gradually.
Apart from this, many Rohingyas were working in the project area on a daily basis.
Rohingya people said they want to stay here till their return to Myanmar becomes possible.
"We are very grateful to the Bangladesh government. But we want to return to our country. We don't want to live in Bangladesh," Abdul Hamid, a Rohingya leader, said.
Sixty-year-old Hanufa Begum had a spring in her steps as she walked her goat back to the living quarter.
She recalled that she had 10 such goats back home.
"But in Kutupalong I did not have any goats. I got a goat today. I am happy," she said, her wrinkles stretching into a smile as she thought of her life in back in Myanmar.