Hollywood star Ashley Judd is in Bangladesh, sharing both heartbreaking and beautiful stories of Rohingya women and children in refugee camps. A Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ashley is using her platform to remind us – as we flick through our often vacuous social media feeds – there is a humanitarian crisis going on and we can’t ignore it.
We asked the actress what’s the most difficult part about seeing the situation first-hand. Her answer, a testament to the resilience and perseverance of the Rohingya people: “Grappling with the reality there is no end in sight. They are just…here.”
Over 1.2 million people are now set up in Cox’s Bazaar after fleeing horrific violence in Myanmar. “They want the world to know their story,” Ashley explains in a Facebook Live video from the Bay of Bengal. “They want the world to know they are stateless and they need a place to stay permanently.”
Through videos and photos, the actress shows us the dire reality. Shelters are severely overcrowded. “Hectic” is the word Ashley uses. Resources are stretched and with monsoon season returning, homes, food and water supplies are at serious risk. In one Insta post, she shares a picture of herself sitting in a refugee home with the caption: “In this one corner, there were 16 of us.”
As Ashley explains, the UNFPA plays an important role in giving women and children the chance of a normal life “in the most abnormal of conditions and circumstances.” The organisation has set up 19 women-friendly spaces where female refugees – many who’ve lost loved ones and experienced sexual violence – have access to specialised support, healthcare and a place to rest. They practice deep breathing and meditation to help them cope with their grief and trauma. They’re given ‘dignity kits’ containing basics like soap, sanitary pads and torches to help them move around safely at night.
Skyping her fans from the camps, Ashley wears necklaces made by some of the girls she’s met and her hands are decorated with henna. She explains that making jewellery, dancing and doing yoga are all soothing activities for the girls who’ve been through so much.
“Every now and then, I just paused, stunned, looking at these kids,” Ashley says in her video, “and reminding myself that they walked here! They WALKED to Bangladesh! They were fleeing murder and mayhem and rape and decapitation and throat-slitting and unspeakable brutality and atrocities in what they call Burma, and here they were with us, just playing!”