A young Rohingya at the school of photographic language

Mohammad Hasson cannot describe in words his terrifying escape from Myanmar when he was only 8 years old. But his story is clear to anyone who understands his gestures and facial expressions.

“They set fire to our neighborhood. I heard gunshots from my house and fear came over me”he says, under the interpretation of his friend Sahat Zia Hero.

He then talks about the bomb blast, the flight and a long and harrowing journey to Bangladesh, where he and his family joined hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya refugees in camps taking shape in the hills of Cox’s district. Bazaar.

Attempting to express in sign language the pain of an empty stomach, he recalls the hunger that followed them across the border and prompted him to gather with a group of other refugees then that a vehicle was coming to distribute water and food.

“People were scrambling to pick up food,” he said. “I climbed on the vehicle. A photographer was standing at the top…I was crying and begging for food the instant the photographer photographed me. »

Hasson received a food parcel which he took back to his shelter and shared with his family. He hardly thought about the photo the man had taken of him, until the day he learned that it had been seen all over the world.

This photographer was called Kevin Frayer. Hasson’s photo was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of black-and-white images. These photos offered a glimpse of the influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh from August 2017. In the first weeks, they arrived by boat and on foot, traumatized and exhausted, in such numbers that aid workers had to hard to help them.

Five years later, more than 930,000 Rohingyas still live in camps in the Cox’s Bazar region, including more than 700,000 who arrived in August 2017. More than half are children. With little prospect of an imminent return to Myanmar, and a lack of formal education or livelihoods in the camps, their future is uncertain.

Hasson, or “Asun” to his friends, is now 13 years old. Like most other Rohingya children living in the camps, he spends his mornings at a learning center. In the afternoon, he plays football and walks around the camp taking pictures with his mobile phone.

  • Hasson holds up a phone that features the photo of him taken by Kevin Frayer in 2017, shortly after he arrived in Bangladesh with his family. © UNHCR/Saikat Mojumder

  • Hasson with his friend and mentor Sahat Zia Hero (right), who taught him photography.

    Hasson with his friend and mentor Sahat Zia Hero (right), who taught him photography. © UNHCR

  • Hasson takes pictures with his cell phone.

    Hasson takes pictures with his cell phone. © UNHCR

  • Hasson brandishes the Rohingyatographer magazine which he covers.

    Hasson brandishes the Rohingyatographer magazine which he covers. © UNHCR/Amos Halder

Although a Myanmar school curriculum has been established after years of advocacy by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF and other partner organizations, there are still no curricula education dedicated to children with special needs. Opportunities also remain limited for children of secondary school age.

“Life is hard because I can’t speak or hear”emphasizes Hasson. “I use sign language to communicate, which some understand, some don’t. On many occasions I had to run home because people didn’t understand me. »

Johora Khatun, Hasson’s aunt who has cared for the young man since his mother died after he was born, says he often wanders away from home and argues with people who don’t understand him.

“I worry about his future”she says. “Raising a child in this situation is difficult. »

Hasson learned to write and draw. He uses these skills to communicate with those who don’t understand sign language. But his preferred mode of expression is photography.

“All people look happy when I photograph them. »

“Photography is what I like the most”he confides. “All people look happy when I photograph them. »

Sahat met Hasson two years ago at the Rohingya Memory Cultural Center where he works, after recognizing him as the child in the photo taken by Kevin Frayer.

“I found him intelligent and talented,” he recalls, adding that he had no problem communicating with Hasson, as he grew up using sign language with two cousins ​​in Myanmar. Hasson combines his own signs with more widely recognized signs.

After noticing that Hasson wanted to learn how to use a camera, he set out to teach him photography.

« Hasson has the soul of an artist. He understood the principles of photography in a short time”he explains.

Sahat has helped bring together young Rohingya photographers who use photography and social media to chronicle their lives in the camps. Together they launched the Rohingyatographer magazine, with the support of David Palazon, a Spanish designer and former curator of the Rohingya Memory Cultural Center, who gave Hasson a mobile phone with a camera so he could develop his skills and contribute to the magazine. The first issue came out in May with a photo of Hasson on the cover, holding the famous photo of him taken by Kevin Frayer. His smiling face is a stark contrast to the image of him from 2017.

In the pages of the magazine are some of his own photos. “I take pictures of old people who are going through a difficult time. People will understand how we feel and the challenges we face when they see [les photos] on social media »he points out. “They will know that we need to be educated. I want people to help us more and think of us when they see my photos. »

Sahat has her own dreams for Hasson. “I want him to become a world famous photographer”he confides. “We cannot make a real difference in the lives of everyone, [mais] I do my best to bring light to Hasson’s. »

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A young Rohingya at the school of photographic language