HOPE Amidst a Refugee Crisis

HOPE Hospital, Fistula Foundation’s partner in Bangladesh, has been on the front lines of the Rohingya refugee crisis. Amidst the sprawling refugee camps, HOPE has begun to identify fistula patients. They are working tirelessly to bring aid in a dire situation.

22 year-old Setara Begum told her harrowing story as a Rohingya refugee. When her labor became complicated, she didn’t dare seek medical help at the local hospital, after hearing numerous reports of life-threatening medical malpractice by Myanmarese physicians against Rohingya patients. Under these desperate circumstances, Setara made the weighty decision to continue laboring at home. Tragically, her baby did not survive, and Setara developed a terrible fistula.

Seven months later, Setara and her family were forced to flee to Bangladesh, as Myanmar’s army continued to burn Rohingya villages. When they arrived at a refugee camp, Setara’s husband abandoned her with their 2 ½ year old son— but not before beating her to steal her food vouchers.

“I want to go back [to Myanmar], but I don’t want to die,” she said. “I want to be safe.”

Rohingya fistula survivor Setara Begum, with midwife Beauty Sharma of HOPE Hospital
Rohingya fistula survivor Setara Begum,
with midwife Beauty Sharma of HOPE Hospital. Photo by Touhidal Islam

Setara’s face twisted in pain as she looked up at Beauty Sharma, her translator. Beauty is one of HOPE Hospital’s incredible midwives. At only 20 years old, and after surviving a life-threatening case of typhoid, Beauty has chosen to dedicate her life to helping women in need. She is almost the same age as Setara, and listened to her story with extraordinary compassion.

A sprawling Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, stretching farther than the eye can see. Photography by Touhital Islam
A sprawling Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, stretching farther than the eye can see. Photography by Touhidal Islam

Midwives like Beauty are an integral part of HOPE’s team. When the Rohingya refugee crisis broke in August 2017, thousands of people flooded over the border, and HOPE was the first NGO responder—they mobilized within 24 hours and immediately began to provide emergency care.

HOPE’s team worked around the clock to help desperate Rohingya refugees. They drove aid vehicles into the crisis, triaging at every opportunity. “This was like war,” said Rakibul Hoque, HOPE Hospital’s coordinator.

As they worked, the team began to meet fistula survivors, and referred them back to the main hospital for surgery. Finally, these women could begin to feel safe. They were in the experienced hands of Dr. Nrinmoy Biswas, a certified fistula surgeon, and compassionate attendants like Beauty Sharma. Here, the Rohingya women did not have to fear mistreatment because of their ethnicity.They received care side-by-side with local Bangladeshi women, who were glad to share the space with any woman in need.

HOPE’s universal compassion is an integral part of its mission. It is also a reflection of its visionary founder, Dr. Iftikher Mahmood. “When you see a problem, you need to address it,” he said.

Since 2010, Dr. Mahmood has been one of Fistula Foundation’s most trusted and inspirational partners. He said: “HOPE will make Fistula Foundation [donors] proud of the support they’ve given.” We hope he knows that we are already beyond proud. We are deeply moved and inspired by his team’s dedication and passion to help poor women in need.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of our newsletter, Transformations.

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