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A helping hand for Rohingya in Aceh

Final-year NTU students (back row, from left) Goh Chiew Tong, Jade Han and Clarissa Sih, and KKH physiotherapist Siti Durriah (foreground, left) are doing their bit to help the Rohingya refugees in Aceh. With them is Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who visited an Aceh refugee camp last month.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

By Carolyn Khew
February 23, 2016

When Rohingya refugees from Myanmar were found adrift at sea in May last year, many Acehnese fishermen helped them - even to the extent of hosting them in their homes.

Their kind acts have inspired some Singaporeans to help in whatever small ways they can.

Among them: Physiotherapist Siti Durriah, 27, who went to Aceh last month to teach English, and three final-year students from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), who want to raise awareness about the refugees by making a documentary film.

The Rohingya, a stateless ethnic minority from Myanmar, were allowed to enter Aceh, in northern Sumatra, in May last year.

Considered one of the world's most persecuted minorities, the Muslim Rohingya have been targets of violence in Myanmar, where the majority of people are Buddhists.

Thousands of Rohingya have made the sea crossing from Myanmar to neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Thailand.

Last month, Ms Siti spent three weeks in a refugee camp in Acehconducting developmental assessments for children, and teaching teenagers English. She got involved after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees put her in touch with a non-governmental organisation in Aceh, called Yayasan Geutanyoe.

Ms Siti, who works at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said: "Many of the refugee children I met there did not have basic formal education. I met an 11-year-old who did not know how to read or write."

In a separate effort, NTU students Goh Chiew Tong, Clarissa Sih and Jade Han - all 23 - want to make a documentary to draw attention to the Rohingya refugees.

Entitled Peumulia Jamee, which means "honouring your guests" in Acehnese, it aims to tell the story of how the Acehnese fishermen helped the refugees.

Said Ms Goh: "They are not from the most developed region, yet you see them give so much out of so little. The response of the Acehnese was so special to us. I think part of the reason they responded this way was because of their experience during the 2004 tsunami, when they went through a lot of hardship and received a lot of help."

Ms Han said it was an Aceh head fisherman who made the call to save the refugees after they were turned away by neighbouring countries.

She said: "They have this belief that they would save everything that is out at sea, even animals. So, what more humans?"

The team, which is making the documentary as part of an NTU final-year project, has been to Aceh thrice since November last year, and visited four camps: Kuala Langsa, Bayeun, Lhok Banie and Blang Adoe.

The project is expected to be completed in the first half of this year.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng visited an Aceh refugee camp last month, in his personal capacity, to find out how Singaporeans are involved in the effort.

He said: "With our limited land size, we cannot accept refugees but the least we can do is to help in whatever other ways we can."

There are plans to return to the refugee camp with more volunteers from Singapore in December this year, he added.

"We talk so much about having the kampung spirit here, and the people in Aceh have it. I think there are lessons and stories that need to be shared," said Mr Ng.

Ms Siti said: "Every effort, no matter how small, is important... You can be a fisherman or a student, but when you help, even if it's just one person, the help will go a long way."

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