Image of Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh showing housing structures
©VSO/Abir Abdullah

5 things I've learned volunteering in a refugee camp

Kenyan volunteer Ann Wambui shares what she's learnt as a volunteer in Cox's Bazar camp in Bangladesh.

1. It’s a different world out here…

“…But life continues as usual. In Cox’s Bazar camp I’m working as a volunteer, supporting mothers and sisters as they teach young children songs and stories, and the foundations of learning.

“Despite the tiny, hot and unfurnished houses, these families are doing their best to carry on with daily life - sending their children to school, collecting relief food, and running their own small businesses.

“Young men and boys help with refurbishing roads and buildings, while young women work in learning centres, providing care and looking after children.”

Ann Wambui, in pink, is here with two community volunteers and a Rohingya mother.
Ann Wambui, in pink, is here with two community volunteers and a Rohingya mother.

2. The determination of the Rohingya people is incredible

“I have been impressed by the resilience of the Rohingyas, and how they’ve found joy in such a difficult environment.

“The majority of Rohingya families lost most of their loved ones in the war-torn Rakhine state, Myanmar, over a year ago.

“However, with support from VSO and other NGOs, they have found strength to move on with life.

“Laughter, play and songs encompass most days for Rohingya children now.”

3. Children are children, wherever you go

“Initially, the children were fearful or anxious when we interacted with them. Our home visits were characterised by screams.

“The children were always distracted, and would hold on tight to their mothers and big sisters. Overcoming trauma takes time.

“However, these children have the capacity to learn like any other child.

"It’s important that children who’ve experienced something so traumatic feel safe, secure and have their basic needs met.

 “It feels great to see these vulnerable children developing trust and confidence in people again.”

Ann Wambui with Rohingya children at one of the education centres at Cox's Bazar refugee camp.
©VSO/Ann Wambui
“Laughter, play and songs encompass most days for Rohingya children now,” says VSO volunteer Ann Wambui.

4. It’s people that make change happen

 “The mothers and big sisters have been so enthusiastic when it comes to learning new things and sharing ideas, which they were able to put into practice.”

“Some developed their own teaching resources using locally sourced materials, like writing numbers on food cartons using lipstick.”

Learning materials from Rohingya refugee camp
A selection of some of the resources mothers and big sisters created to help children learn.

5. All you need is hope

“For these mothers and sisters to know there is someone out there who cares about them makes all the difference.”

“Now, these children have the chance to sing joyfully, recite poems, and take part in other activities.

"Above all, these children feel a sense of belonging.”

VSO volunteer Ann Wambui with rohingya mother Shofika, smiling and happy.
©VSO/Ann Wambui
Ann is pictured here with one of the mothers she has been supporting for the last year.

Read more

VSO volunteer and Rohingya children
VSO/Abir Abdullah

Helping Rohingya children get their childhoods back

About half a million children are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. We're working together to help them.

Fiona Kirby VSO education volunteer
VSO/Abir Abdullah

Meet the teacher volunteering in the Rohingya refugee camps

Thousands of Rohingya children are living in the refugee camps. They’re out of school and risk being left behind for good, but VSO education volunteer Fiona Kirby is working to help them

Giving up the ‘gap yah’: how to make sure you volunteer responsibly

We caught up with VSO’s Responsible Volunteering Specialist to find out how she's raising awareness about orphange ‘voluntourism’ and responsible volunteering.