Rohingya fearful of doctors keep faith healers in business

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In this photograph taken Aug. 24, 2018, Rohingya Rohingya faith healer Abul Kalam, left, whispers prayers into a water bottle for his patient, in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. (AP)
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In this photograph taken Aug. 24, 2018, Rohingya faith healer Abul Kalam, 60, prays at a makeshift mosque in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. (AP)
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In this photograph taken Aug. 28, 2018, a Rohingya woman Ali Nesa, tends to her sick daughter inside their makeshift shelter in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. (AP)
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In this photo taken Aug. 28, 2018, a Bangladeshi clinical psychologist Anita Saha interacts with Rohingya refugees as part of an awareness programme in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. (AP)
Updated 13 November 2018
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Rohingya fearful of doctors keep faith healers in business

  • Kalam, a 60-year-old who arrived in Bangladesh in 2012 in an earlier exodus of Rohingya, says he receives more than five clients each day

KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh: Abul Kalam sits cross-legged on the floor of his tiny mud hut and whispers prayers into a small plastic bottle filled with water, creating what he says is a potion that will cure stomach cramps.
“I got these powers in my dreams,” he says. “People come to me because I heal them.”
Kalam is a boidu, or faith healer, and for decades has been treating fellow Rohingya Muslims, first in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state and now in a squalid camp in Bangladesh, where 700,000 Rohingya took refuge last year after escaping a campaign of government violence at home.
Faith healers have long been sought out in Rohingya society to treat physical and mental ailments. Their trade has thrived in part because of traditional beliefs and in part because Rohingya have lacked access to modern medical care in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world.
Access to medical care has changed for the better in Bangladesh, where thousands of aid workers offer Rohingya everything from vaccinations to psychological support.
Doctors Without Borders, which runs four inpatient hospitals and a dozen medical centers in the area, says it has provided more than 800,000 outpatient consultations and admitted more than 15,000 patients since August 2017.
Yet many Rohingya still seek out their faith healers.
Kalam, a 60-year-old who arrived in Bangladesh in 2012 in an earlier exodus of Rohingya, says he receives more than five clients each day.
“People come to me because they benefit from my power,” he says. “That’s why they keep coming back.”
Myanmar officials have said they expect the repatriation of Rohingya to start this week, a move criticized by rights groups who say it is not yet safe for them to return.
Anita Saha, a clinical psychologist who has worked in the camps since August 2017, says Rohingya refugees’ dependence on faith healers stems from a lack of exposure to doctors and a suspicion of scientific medicine.
She says many refugees mistakenly believe they will lose their Islamic faith and be converted to Christianity if they take vaccinations for diseases like cholera and diphtheria. And in the case of mental illness, she says, many believe it is a reflection of evil forces and is best countered by a faith healer invoking prayer.
“They don’t have any doctors to prescribe psychotropic drugs. So, they believe in the boidus to overcome their problem,” Saha says.
She says beliefs in the camps are slowly changing.
Ali Nesa has never known what’s wrong with her teenage daughter, who spends her days in the refugee camp lying on the floor of her family’s thatch hut, unable to talk, walk or eat on her own.
Nesa says her daughter has been this way since she was 3, when she had epileptic fits for nearly two weeks straight.
“I don’t know if her disease is due to an evil spirit or because of difficulty in breathing,” Nesa says. “If this is because of an evil spirit, then only a boidu can treat her. If it is a breathing problem, then a doctor may be able to help her.”
Nesa says none of the many boidus she has visited has been able to help her daughter and she is losing her faith in them. She’s now interested in seeking medical help.
Climate extremes, harsh land and unsanitary conditions make the camps a breeding ground for diseases and mental stress.
That means there’s plenty of work for doctors. It also means there’s plenty of business for faith healers like Kalam, who says he’s doing Allah’s bidding and isn’t bothered by people who don’t believe in his powers.
“I can’t be worried by what people have to say,” he says.
“Maybe the doctor will say what does a boidu know? I don’t want to answer them. I don’t need to fight them.”


Hugh Jackman reveals Global Teacher Prize finalists ahead of Dubai ceremony

Updated 21 February 2019
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Hugh Jackman reveals Global Teacher Prize finalists ahead of Dubai ceremony

  • The awards ceremony will take place on March 24
  • Out of 10,000 nominations from 39 countries, 10 finalists were chosen

DUBAI: Hollywood A-lister Hugh Jackman has lauded teachers as the “real superheroes” ahead of the  million-dollar Global Teacher Prize ceremony to be held in Dubai next month.

Speaking in a four-minute long video message, the actor revealed the 10 finalists who will be up for the prize on March 24.

Recalling his own experience, Wolverine star Jackman spoke of his “transformative” experience with his acting teacher.

Hugh Jackman and his acting teacher. (Supplied)

And he described the teaching profession as “the most important job in the world.”

“My favorite uncle was a teacher, my sister’s a teacher, my brother’s a teacher… My hope for every single person on the planet is that you have at least one,” he said.

“All of us go through insecurity and doubt, trepidation, along this journey of life, and those teachers that see the best in us and are patient enough to allow us to grow into that, they are like gold,” he added.

Out of 10,000 nominations from 39 countries, 10 finalists were chosen, including teachers from the UK, India, Japan, and Kenya.

The Dubai-based Global Teacher Prize was set up by global education charity Varkey Foundation to recognize one teacher “who made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.”

“I hope their stories will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world every day,” said Sunny Varkey, the founder of the Varkey Foundation.

The winner will be announced at the “Global Education & Skills Forum” on March 24.

On the eve of the forum, chart toppers Little Mix, Liam Payne, and Rita Ora will perform at the Dubai Media City Amphitheater in a tribute concert organized by the foundation.

Here's the video announcement: