Formin Akter, a Rohingya refugee girl, smiles as she poses for a picture before heading to Chittagong to attend school at the Asian University for Women, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Formin was 18. She was sitting on a plastic stool in a bamboo shelter at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Like the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees around her, she and her family had fled a campaign of mass murder, rapes and arson in Myanmar the previous year.
But Formin wanted to talk about Keller, the deaf and blind American author she considered an inspiration. She wanted to talk about Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, another hero. She wanted to talk about her books ravaged in the burning of her house amid deadly violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. She spoke of her dream of becoming a lawyer, and of inspiring other Rohingya girls deprived of education.
By then, I had spent nearly a year making reporting trips to the refugee camps, interviewing girls Formin’s age, many survivors of rape and sexual assault. Women and girls at the Rohingya camps are usually seen fanning cooking pots, cradling babies or tending to their family inside bamboo shelters. Most from the long-persecuted community who live at the camps are illiterate, and the few who did manage to study in Myanmar often only speak Burmese