Monday, November 26, 2007
Like Little Fish in a Can
If anyone is curious about the title. It is in reference to sardines in a can, but with a Bangladeshi flavour. That not yet acquired taste, the flavour of little fish. And where is like little fish in a can? The Bihari camp.
I will begin by briefly describing the situation of the Biharis in Bangladesh. During the Liberation War of 1971, the Bihari ethnic group, Muslims from India, considered themselves to be Pakistani and therefore supported the Pakistani army in the atrocities they committed in Bangladesh during the war. But following the war, Pakistan conveniently decided that an influx of Biharis into West Pakistan would destabilize the country and they would not accept the Bihari refugees. So, refugee camps were established in Bangladesh where these "Pakistanis" could live. Now 35 years later, these Biharis are still here in Bangladesh.
Where do I belong? The Biharis are not citizens of any country. They cannot vote or obtain a passport from either Pakistan or Bangladesh, and they live in the same camps established over thirty years ago. This creates a population implosion. When over 300 families (often of 8-10 members) live in a tiny, walled community. The Mymensingh Bihari camp has 13 latrines for 300 families, often these latrines are backed up and unhygienic. There is one clean water pump for the camp, and three hundred families line up everyday to get water. There are no schools, no greenery, no place for children to play, and no place to call your own. Families dwell in single rooms, often holes exist where the corrugated iron of the roof does not meet properly creating waterfalls when the rains come. The streets, alleyways in fact, are not wide enough for two people to walk past each other, and people's doors open one into the other.
It is in the midst of these cramped quarters that you will find 12 youth, all in high school or first year college, who are interested in learning about peace. What can they do about the constant quarrelling at the water pump, or the screaming outside the latrines? How can they improve their situations, both in the camp and in the larger society? Questions they ask, answers we hope to discover. This is one of my most exciting pieces of the Peace program. The opportunity to work with these youth, who are there to learn, to add a little healing salt and give some new flavour to their can of problems. In this small place, there is hope for change and the idea of future possibilities excites and inspires me.
Be the Peace in the World.