"The flames of the house engulfed her and I couldn’t do anything. I felt helpless. It is the most distraught feeling to watch your loved one die in front of you," says *Mohd. Aslam.
33-year-old Mohd. Aslam, a farmer by profession, lived off the produce of his land, in Rakhine, Myanmar. Farming, being the main source of his income, met the daily demands of running the household.
"I had my own land and we grew fruit, vegetables, chilli and beetle nut. The income got from selling the produce met the needs of the house," says Mohd. Aslam.
Aslam’s strong affinity towards his village stemmed from a peculiar appeal drawing him closer to the area he once called home.
"My sister, *Saira Begum lived in the same village but in a different area. Having family living close by was a blessing because we got to meet often for every festival and special occasions.
She was younger and had two children a 4-year-old and 2-year-old. Her husband was a mason. Our families were very close," says Mohd. Aslam.
Mohd. Aslam’s thrill and joy of eating local delicacies at festivals and sharing family gossip along with his sister abruptly ended the day violence broke out in his village.
"It was a Friday and we were in the middle of prayer. The men were in the mosque during prayer. Our village was close to the military camp. The women were left behind.
Soon we saw there was smoke all over and fire blazing. We ran towards the homes.
They were all on fire. We were not allowed to go close and help anymore. We had to watch our village burn to the ground and my sister, along with her family die in the fire. It is painful to witness your loved one die," he says.
In an instant, Mohd Aslam not only lost his sister who he adored but her entire family. Clinging to his immediate family for dear life and keeping their safety as his main priority he decided to leave his village behind and cross the borders through the forest.
"It took us two days to leave and enter Bangladesh. If we had stayed back then we would have suffered the same fate like my sister so it was safer to leave everything behind," says Mohd Aslam.
Mohd Aslam is one of 135, 250 people who have received food assistance from World Vision. He, now, is the acting Mazhi in his area, caring for the needs of 109 families.
"I see there is a lot of need here in the area where we are living. I was not able to help my sister and save her life but now I have been given the opportunity to help. As acting Mazhi (local leader of refugee camp)
we support in distributing aid during a relief distribution, clarify and verify the family details. We also convey information about relief distributions to the people, so that they are aware when and where they need to go to get the relief goods. Through this role I get to help those in need get the basic relief essential for their survival," he says.
Seeing the reflection of his sister in other refugee members Mohd Aslam shares portions of the relief he gets with those who need it more desperately.
"When I see someone in more need than me, I am compelled to share what relief goods I have ith them, like I would do with my sister, if she was alive," says Mohd Aslam.
Filled with mixed emotions of being away from his village Mohd Aslam like other thousands ofrefugees tries his best to adapt to his new normal with the hope of someday returning back to Myanmar.
"Now there is no need to work as we are managing with the relief we get, but at the same time there is no freedom of movement. We can’t move out from the place where we are staying.
The essence of what is normal activity has changed. Back home normal activity was working in my farm; here it is just waiting to get relief as we can’t work here. There is a stop to all the daily activities we used to do. I hope we can go back to Burma someday so that we can get back to our way of life before the violence broke out," says Mohd Aslam.
Mohd Aslam desires to educate his children so that they have a chance to live a dignified life and possess the discernment between good and bad.
* not real names.
Story and Photo by Annila Harris