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Leading the way to help Rohingya adolescents heal, learn and shine again

“The radio sessions give me an opportunity to learn necessary life-skills and about issues such as gender identity, conflict resolution, gender based violence, COVID19 and so on. Like me, many of my peers were unaware of such important issues, as they did not have the opportunity to go to school and learn about them. That’s why I try to share everything I have learned with my friends and neighbors,” says 14-year Arofullah, a participant of UNFPA’s Champions of Change life skills education programme in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

In 2017, Arofullah fled Myanmar and arrived in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh with his family, where they settled in the largest refugee camp in the world. He is one of the countless adolescents around the world, who transition from childhood to adulthood inside a refugee camp.

Making this transition is particularly difficult in the camps in Cox's Bazar, as bodily and emotional changes caused by puberty are considered taboo topics in the Rohingya community. Parents are hesitant to discuss these issues with their children, which often results in young people not knowing how to cope with the changes they are going through. As this can be major cause of stress and worry for the Rohingya adolescents, it is essential that they have some way of receiving accurate information on sexual and reproductive health.

That is why since 2018, UNFPA has been delivering gender-responsive life skills education to youth and adolescents in the camps. As part of these efforts, UNFPA has distributed over 2,000 Psychosocial Support kits to adolescent boys and girls from the camps. The kits contain a radio and a memory card full of pre-recorded radio episodes teaching essential life-skills; flashcards with crucial information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence and COVID-19; as well as colour pencils and drawing books to help the adolescents stay active during despite the mobility restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

18-year old Maimuna, one of the adolescent girls participating in the Champions of Change programme, has regularly listened to the radio episodes since she received the kit. The episode on Menstrual Hygiene Management, a common issue for women and girls living in the congested camps, is her favourite one.

“Through the episode, I learned the dos and don’ts of menstruation. The information on healthy foods that are good for our body during period was completely new to me. I actually played the session for my mother, as she never had the opportunity to learn about these things when she was young.  I have also shared what I have learned with my neighbors and friends, so even they are benefiting from them.”

As she describes her stressful life inside the camps, Maimuna also mentions that she frequently calls UNFPA’s Alapon helpline and talks to the psychosocial counselors working for the helpline. The Alapon Helpline is a toll-free help number, where young people between the ages of 10 and 24 and their parents can call to receive psychosocial support and information on issues relevant to youth and adolescents. The Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar have a separate number, which the communities can call to receive counseling in their own Rohingya dialect. To learn more about the Alapon helpline visit here

On World Refugee Day, UNFPA reiterates its commitment to reducing the vulnerability of adolescents to gender-based violence and negative SRHR outcomes in the Rohingya camps and surrounding host communities in Cox's Bazar. By equipping these young people with the rights skills and knowledge and providing them with opportunities to use them, we can enable the Rohingya to heal, learn and shine as a community.