A Rohingya student strives to attain higher education

Zubair left Maungdaw after the 2012 violence. He first came to Teknaf, then went to Chittagong. Although he felt it could no longer be safe for him to live in Myanmar, he has never identified as a refugee and says his experience as a migrant is “totally different” from that of refugees. 

Zubair majored in Pharmacy at a university, along with at least 40 other Rohingya students. He says that this is the major of choice amongst the most academically talented Rohingya students. Many youth spent their early years witnessing the health issues suffered by Rohingya people, and, though they had no chance to become doctors due to the discrimination they faced within the Myanmar education system, they felt that at least majoring in Pharmacy would be a way to support health care for their community. Zubair graduated in 2017 and completed an internship at a pharmacy. Fortunately, most of his university fees were covered by a scholarship from a Muslim government [undisclosed] 

In 2017, Zubair’s family were all forced to flee Myanmar, including his mother, two sisters and four brothers. He brought them to Chittagong although it had become riskier for Rohingya to live there. One brother has since moved  to Cox’s Bazar to work as a tom tom [a small battery-operated carriage] driver in the camps in order to help support the family. 

A brother contributes to the household income

The brother who drives a tom tom has to pay 500 taka per day to rent the vehicle, and can earn 1200 to 1500 taka per day. From this amount, he pays a daily rental charge for the vehicle, as well as fees for battery charging and tolls. So Zubair has been trying to save money and invest in a tom tom or a CNG [a small motorized cart] for his brother. A tom tom costs 180,000 taka and a CNG costs 430,000 taka. There are no payment plans available to buyers, so all the cash must be saved up front.

Making ends meet to support siblings’ education

While his brother contributes his earnings to the family, Zubair remains the primary breadwinner, and all of his other siblings are studying with his support. While he earns a good salary with an international NGO, it is a stretch for him to cover so many people’s school fees. But he manages.

The family has an uncle in Saudi Arabia who sometimes sends a small amount of money, such as during Ramadan or Eid. Zubair anticipates that he will continue to be the family’s primary breadwinner, as some of his siblings are still studying in primary school and have many more years of schooling ahead of them before they can become earners. Zubair is trying to get a job with a UN agency, which pays a better salary and which he thinks would be a more stable and reliable job than the one he currently has with an NGO, because NGOs are currently only authorized by Bangladesh’s NGO Affairs Bureau to implement short, six-month funding cycles. This causes uncertainty for staff working short-term contracts. An uncle in Malaysia has been telling Zubair that he could arrange a UNHCR job for him there. But there is no guarantee, and his family cannot risk losing his current income, so he plans to stay in Bangladesh.  

Zubair says he would only go back to Myanmar if it became a fully democratic country and met all of the Rohingyas’ demands. In Bangladesh, he says, Rohingya people will always suffer because they cannot express their real identities.