19-year old Khin May Ye Than is a teacher at Thek Kal Pyin refugee camp. Her students are sitting in an open hall as they learning Burmese language. She’s been teaching here for the past two years.
“We have some experienced teachers at the school. They teach me how to teach and I try my best to teach my students,” she explained.
Khin May Ye Than also lives at the camp with her six family members, inside a bamboo shelter. Teaching is the only job she can get here. But this is not her dream.
“I want to attend university and learn nursing. When I was in high school, senior students would come back to school and give encouraging talks to us. I dreamed to be like them,” she said.
But her dream disappeared when she had to run from her home to this Sittwe camp on a fishing boat three years ago.
“I had to run away from communal violence. It was just one day after my high school result came out. I saw my name on the result list, but I couldn't celebrate that with my friends.”
She feels despair for not having the chance to pursue her dream job. “People live with their ambition. I worked hard during high school to achieve my goal, to be accepted in the university. But now I can’t attend one. It feels like I don’t have anything.”
There are about 120 thousand refugees living at this camp in Sittwe. Some 200 of them finished high school but didn’t have the chance to continue their studies at university.
Sittwe University is just eight kilometres away from the camp. This university used to accept Rohingya students. But everything has changed since anti-Muslim violence erupted in Rakhine state three years ago. Today, Muslim students can’t set foot on campus.
Government only permitted small radius for Rohingyas to move – Sittwe University is just outside the border. The guards restrict them from breaking the law.
Spokesperson of Arakan State, Hla Tein, says more violence could break out if Rohingyas are allowed onto campus. “If we allow them to study together, they will kill each other,” he said, adding the Rohingyas have the chance to attend via distance learning from inside the camp.
But Tin Hlaing, who advocates for the education of refugees, says the government could do more. “If the government thinks they can’t let us study together here, they can send Rohingya students to Yangon or other cities so that our children can continue their education. We have been here for a couple of years now, and there’s no chance for us to study."
Back at the camp. Khin May Ye Than is writing Burmese text on the blackboard with chalk. The students then repeat after her.
She said, “The future of these students is not clear, whether they can attend university or not. But I encourage my students. One day because there might be a chance for us to go to university.”