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Why I Became an Aid Worker

Shirin Aktar had her very first, and temporary, contract with UNHCR in 2001, interviewing Rohingya families who fled from Myanmar.

She came on board full-time in 2007, and has since also worked with Rohingya refugees in Thailand in addition to her native Bangladesh. Helping them, she says, is a privilege, even though being an aid worker brings difficult days as well as hopeful ones.

Shirin’s journey to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

In an interview on the UN refugee agency official website, Shirin Aktar, a protection officer who works in Bangladesh shares her story on becoming an aid worker:

“In 2001 I was a student and I started working with a UNHCR team interviewing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, which is my home. I speak English and the Chittagong dialect, which is similar to Rohingya. We talk like them and we dress like them. When I heard their stories, why they fled, how they are living here, I just said, ‘Yes, I want to be an aid worker.’ I wanted to help.

We are currently in the middle of the biggest emergency the region has had in decades. Thousands of people are fleeing to Bangladesh. Children often get separated from their parents in the confusion. In response, we opened a safe space for children at the camps, and information booths to help reunite them with their parents.

In the first weeks of the crisis I got a call from one of our partners at one of the camps, who said, ‘Come, we have a five- to six-year-old girl here. She’s lost her parents and she’s crying.’ Immediately I just ran to our office. She was sitting in a chair and crying. I picked her up and held her. I could see in front of my eyes my daughter’s face and she was crying.

They had become separated along the road to the camp. Straight away we put out a call over the loudspeaker, but couldn’t locate her parents. We then took her to the spot where she lost her mother and father, but we still couldn’t find them. Finally, along the road outside the camp we found them. When I saw them meeting, hugging each other and crying, I thought: ‘This is the best day for me.’”

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