This is Mohammed Ayas. He is a Rohingya muslim. He’s twelve years old and lives at the temporary shelter with his mother and younger brother. When he came to school in June, I realized that this was the first time he had ever attended school. He was never able to go to school in Myanmar for several reasons; one being that he is Rohingya.
Over the few short months that I have known him, Mohammed Ayas has impressed and moved me beyond anything I could have anticipated. When I first met him, he could not speak any English, let alone even read the English alphabet. As I sat down with him during long lunch hours, drilling the English alphabet into his head, I realized how discouraged he was feeling. As one of the older boys, he struggled to keep up with the younger kids who were whizzing past their alphabets and numbers quite easily. While the other kids began to read out words, Mohammed Ayas was still stuck on identifying the letters. But there’s something I noticed about Mohammed Ayas. No matter how discouraged he looked while studying, he never seemed to give up. Sometimes I would leave extra English exams and worksheets in my classroom and I would come in the next morning to see that Mohammed Ayas copied every single letter on every single sheet of paper. He asked me if he could bring a couple English books and boxes of flashcards to his shelter, so I gave some to him. After that, I didn’t see him for a couple weeks. Worried about him, I went back to the shelter to check up on him. He excitedly greeted me, asked me to sit down, and proceeded to recite every single flashcard and every single book he read to me.
In just a few short months, Mohammed Ayas not only improved exponentially, but he surpassed all the other Rohingya students’ English skills and he refuses to stop. Every day I visit the shelter, he has learned at least 10 new English words and can use them in everyday situations. He’s always the first to approach me when I pull up to the gate and the last one to see me off, thanking me for English class.
I tell everyone about Mohammed Ayas and his perseverance to learn English. This boy has proven that despite his circumstances and hardships, he will not be let down. As a Rohingya refugee, he has fallen into the hole of poverty, despair, and statelessness. Despite this, he was able to grab hold of a rope and slowly pull himself out of there, day by day.
He’s someone I wish I could be more like. He inspires me more and more every day.
I will never understand why such terrible things happen to some of the greatest people.
Why he was forced to flee his home and leave everything behind, I will never understand. Why he was persecuted for his religion, language, and background, I will never understand. And why his mother tried to abandon him on Monday, I will never understand.
Two nights ago, 14 Rohingya women with a 5-year-old and 7-year-old escaped from the shelter where I teach. They tied bed sheets together and climbed out the building and ran into the jungle. One of the women was Mohammed Ayas’ mother. They left during the night in hopes to find a way to get to Malaysia. The police were able to catch them. They will be brought back to the shelter tomorrow.
When I went to visit Mohammed Ayas today, he told me of how his mother disappeared during the night. It tore me apart when I heard his story. There was so much pain in his eyes. He tried to hold back the tears as he told me. He said he will see his mother tomorrow when she is escorted by the police.
Can you imagine seeing your mother who tried to abandon you during the night? There was no time for goodbye, no letter, no notice; nothing. Just a couple bed sheets tied together and then suddenly, she was gone.
What would you say to a mother who tried to leave you?
I looked at Mohammed Ayas and knew what he was thinking. I had so many questions for him. Maybe there was a reason? Maybe there was a bigger picture? Maybe there was a plan for him to meet her later? I could pretend that there was a bigger picture, but the reality is that Mohammed Ayas was left alone last night while his mother tried to escape to another country.
I wanted to say so much more than I could, but I knew he wouldn’t understand. We looked at each other for a while. I decided to give him a long hug; something that’s definitely not protocol in the Rohingya culture. But I didn’t care. I wanted him to know more than ever that I cared for him, no matter what happens with his mother.
Tomorrow I’m going back to see him. I don’t know what will happen when he sees his mother again. I don’t know what they will say or do. All I know is that I never want to stop teaching him English. If learning English is the only spark of encouragement and hope that he has in his life right now, then the least I can do is provide him with that.