Article by Belle George (UWC Atlantic College ’14-’16)
Social Justice Conference, UWC Atlantic College, 2014. 26 teenagers from Powys house, coming from countries around the Earth, sharing the story of, according to the UN, one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. Myanmar’s Rohingyas. A group so few anywhere know about, a group who we decided needs to finally be heard.
A skit, personal stories, a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZdQHKNM1s0) all explained the situation with the Rohingyas to the audience of nearly 200 – students from the six other houses, teachers, judges and other audience members. We explained how the Rohingyas are denied so many basic human rights, such as those to marry and have any number of children they wish. How Rohingyas cannot own land and require official permission to travel and that since 1982 the Rohingyas have been denied citizenship in Myanmar, being forced to register as “Bengali” earlier this year in Myanmar’s first census in three decades. The Myanmar government has also banned the word Rohingya. Many Rohingyas have fled Myanmar to live in refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand. However, the situation here is also dire.
Rohingyan refugees in Bangladesh no longer receive any support from the government. Rohingyan refugees in Thailand have had groups of them forced into boats and shipped out to sea after being captured and beaten by the Thai military. These boats were then abandoned in open sea, where four out of five of them sank. By the time we had explained to the audience what the plight of the Rohingyas was, faces across the crowd looked shocked, upset, horrified. But what really made the presentation so memorable was when it came to the point where we explained how we had decided to take this issue we all felt so strongly about outside the “AC Bubble” and share what had affected us so greatly with everyone we knew.
Us Powys first years decided to take matters into our own hands. Creating a solution for so-called “people in power” wasn’t enough for us. Our house motto is “United We Will Never Be Defeated”. We took that. And ran with it. We’ve united and we’ve started something that isn’t going to be stopped, that isn’t going to be defeated. We’re using the power of unified people with a goal, something far stronger than any figurehead has. So we sat down, put our heads together and thought about what the best way to spread the word was. It quickly became apparent that social media is the most powerful tool in today’s society. As of 2014, 72% of internet users use social media. Facebook alone has over 1.5 billion users. So we began a campaign to alert the world to this horrific issue that so few know about. Each and every Powys first year has contacted their friends and family all over the world and explained the situation with the Rohingyas and encouraged them to do the same and share this story with their family and friends and so on and so on. We’ve begun a social media campaign called “#RecogniseRohingya”. Of course, anyone who we told was shocked by this story, shocked by the fact they didn’t know about it and immediately agreed to join us and share the message.
By the time the conference took place we had photos of over 250 people in over 40 different countries, all showing that they now know about the Rohingyas and they want others to know too and that they aren’t simply going to sit back and let this happen! What began as a conversation that was a mere seed of an idea between a couple of dorm mates in Powys has now spread. This seed has been multiplied. Through Wales. Through the UK. Across the channel and into Western Europe. From there, to the rest of Europe. To the North in Scandinavian countries. To the South and into the Mediterranean and across the European continent to the East.
But, it isn’t only Europe that this movement has begun in. It’s now in continents across the globe. Seeds have blown and people are now recognising the Rohingyas in the Americas. Across Asia and Africa, North to South, East to West. And finally, to Oceania. People are now recognising the Rohingyas and the need for things to change for them all the way across the planet, 19,279 kilometres from that dorm in Powys where this all began. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These people have joined us in a force that refuses to be stopped. The more people we told, the more photos we got. The more support and appreciation from people in all corners of the earth, now united with a goal. #RecogniseRohingya.
And it all began less than a week ago. More than 250 people know now about this issue and 98% hadn’t heard of it before. Why should the Rohingyas’ struggles remain unknown? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to live as freely and happily and have the same rights we all do? Why shouldn’t they be recognised as citizens of their own country? These are the questions that people in over 40 countries began wondering, now they now.
And now YOU know. And so we ask you to join us in this campaign. Recognising Rohingya. Take a photo. Share it on whatever social media you use. Share the video we created.Tell your friends, your family, your neighbours and your dog about this issue. Because united we never be defeated. United, we will recognise the forgotten and we will make a change.