16-year-old Sufaira lives in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Tens of thousands of girls just like her live there too, amongst the nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar.
The camps are not a healthy place for children to grow up, and young girls like Sufaira are especially vulnerable. Built upon dangerous terrain and filled with dark alleyways between improvised shelters, it’s easy to get lost and feel afraid of what – or who – may be around the next corner.
Women and girls like Sufaira had to endure so many horrors while escaping violence and persecution in Myanmar; now that they’ve made it to Bangladesh, they shouldn’t have to worry about their safety anymore.
That’s why CARE established 12 Women and Girls Safe Spaces, known locally as the “Shantikhana” which means “place of peace”.
They go there to seek emotional support and counselling to help deal with the trauma they now live with, and help cope with the fear of living in a sprawling, intimidating refugee camp.
Inside, young girls are taught basic literacy and numeracy skills, and are able to play games, make friends, and discover new hobbies and skills. For Sufaira that new skill was sewing. She found joy in being creative and making new things – especially clothes, which are hard to come by in a refugee camp.
“In my 16 years of living on this earth, I have suffered a lot,” Sufaira said. “Now I am happier.”
Because men aren’t allowed in the Shantikhana, women and girls are able to openly learn about sensitive topics like menstrual hygiene without feeling uncomfortable. They are also taught about the dangers of gender-based violence and forced-marriage – lessons which were life-changing for Sufaira, whose father wanted her to get married when she turned 16.
Thanks to her sessions in the Shantikhana, Sufaira was all too aware of the negative consequences of forced marriage, and she and her mother stood up to her father, convincing him not to force her into an early marriage.
“I want to study and also get a job,” Sufaira said, knowing that being forced into marriage at 16 would deprive her of those rights and opportunities.
Sufaira now feels optimistic about her future.
“I think I can do it, by getting help from the Shantikhana.”
Images © Asafuzzaman Captain/CARE