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“I don’t want to be a burden on my family”

Emergency
Bangladesh

Amongst the 625,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are many hundreds living with severe disability. Their families are struggling to care for them in difficult camp conditions. Noorayesha is partially paralysed and cannot leave her tent.

HI physiotherapist, Rubel Sarker, assesses Noorayesha’s movement. | ©HI / Philippa Poussereau

HI physiotherapist, Rubel, walks through a narrow alleyway at the edge of B-block in Unchiprang camp. He has been informed that there is a lady living here who has not been able to move for six weeks. He is searching for the right tent. Neighbours show him the way to a bamboo structure lined with thick black tarpaulin, about five square meters large. Noorayesha can just be seen through the doorway lying on a thin mat on the dirt floor; her daughter, Fatima, invites Rubel in.

Noorayesha is 55 years old. She and her three adult daughters fled Myanmar in August, when their village was attacked. Noorayesha’s husband was brutally slashed with machetes and died instantly. The women ran and hid in the hills and then walked for four days to the Bangladesh border; crossing deep rivers to reach safety.

Like more than 625,000 other Rohingya refugees now living in unofficial and makeshift refugee settlements, the family has faced a continuous struggle to access food, water and shelter. Just as things were becoming more stable, Noorayesha suddenly lost almost all feeling in the left side of her body; most likely as the result of a stroke.

Rubel begins a preliminary physical assessment, asking Noorayesha to clench her fists or raise her legs. He needs to ascertain which movements she can and cannot make and how this is affecting her quality of life. Fatima explains that she and her sisters have to help their mother with most daily tasks; sitting up, washing, dressing and going to the toilet. They are struggling to encourage her to eat and cannot access enough drinking water. Noorayesha never leaves the tent.

Rubel carefully shows Fatima how to conduct a series of exercises that may help to regain some movement in her mother’s arms, legs and hips. He explains to the whole family that these exercises need to be carried out ten times a day, every day and that he will return in five days to assess their progress. He will bring a bed pan and toilet chair with him.  

As Rubel leaves, Norrayesha says that she does not want to be a burden on her family; that even if she can only have her left hand back, it would help. Rubel replies that he is hopeful.

Date published: 19/12/17

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