Meeting a Forgotten but Not Forgettable People
By Arishaa Khan
It was finally the moment.
I had been hearing stories, seeing pictures, witnessing heart-felt sentiments for quite some time.
Now, it was my own turn.
My name is Arishaa Khan and OBAT Helpers has shaped the way I live my life.
Since the beginning of the organization in 2004, OBAT Helpers has been an integral part of my life, subconsciously leading me down a path of service and giving. The founder, Anwar Khan, is a long-time friend and dearly beloved man I am fortunate to call my father. At the age of 14, I saw OBAT Helpers transpire into existence. Today, at age 22, I am proud to see the increasing effect OBAT Helpers has not only on me, but also the beautiful, hopeful souls in Bangladesh that I had the honor of meeting this past month.
Today, I consciously acknowledge that I have returned from the trip of a lifetime. I never expected a country to change and affect me so deeply during my first visit; however, visiting Bangladesh with my father did just that. I couldn’t be more proud and awestruck at my father’s ever-increasing awesomeness and truly unconditional love. He may be a familiar face in the camps, but the way they embraced him with such love showed me just how detrimental this organization and its mission is to these people.
There are nearly 300,000 stateless, forgotten people spread throughout 66 camps in the country. Their conditions are unimaginable, beyond the realms of decent human existence. There are many political ties at play, however at the end of the day, these people are human and have the right to lead dignified, honorable lives. OBAT Helpers is a nonprofit solely dedicated to enhancing the lives of the forgotten people through utilizing means of self-empowerment, education, healthcare, and happiness. The people, the stories, the heartbreak, the love, the smiles, the lovely children, the laughter, the tears, and the hope: everything about my experience visiting the camps has made a bigger impact on my life than I could imagine. I sincerely hope that one day I will be able to describe to these people how important their happiness, their existence is to me.
I wish I could tell you each memory that drifts vividly through my mind, but I’ll try to be brief. In one of the camps in Khulna, I met a little girl named Rani. Rani wasn’t your typical excited, vocal nine-year-old. She was rather quiet, reserved, and this is why I will never forget her peaceful soul holding my hand tight as we walked through different camps of the area. She was silent, but inquisitive, sporadically asking me about my life, the weather in America, the kind of car I drive, what my friends are like. Her laughter is remarkably memorable and saying goodbye to her was even harder than expected. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Rani has hopes higher than skyscrapers.
In Chittagong, I met a beautiful little girl named Noor Jehan, along with her two charming friends. The four of us had been talking for a while and it didn't take me long to find that these girls were little unexpected firecrackers who were bursting with stories, laughter, and jokes. After a bit, all three of them suddenly vanished from the crowd and we kept walking on without them. I was worried I wouldn't be able to say goodbye to them before I left, but after about 10 minutes there they were, all three running towards us. They caught up and asked me to come a side with them, so I followed. They began describing how the three of them had pooled together things to give me, as they put flowers in my hair, gave me a hair barrette, and ruby red earrings. I asked them why they were giving me so many things, and they responded by telling me that they're afraid I would forget them and want me to remember them when I wear their gifts. Little did they know, it would be nearly impossible to forget their charming ways and loving, incessant chatter. They were simply beautiful, unforgettable souls.
Towards the end of December, we were en route to Rangpur, preparing to witness the results of a massive fire in one of the camps that demolished already broken lives. It was in a camp in this city that I had the absolute honor of meeting Fatima, an elderly blind woman, who was being guided by her daughter. Little did I know this woman would soon become the most moving and prized experience for me. As soon as Fatima and I began talking, she quickly asked to be seated because she had been walking for some time in order to come where I was. The three of us sat together on a low stool as I listened to her lively chatter and her unbelievable stories. When the fire happened in the camp, her daughter could have grabbed the few salvageable things they had and run to safety herself. But, instead, her daughter salvaged the most precious thing for her: her mother, Fatima.
Fatima continued with her stories about her life in the camps, the time when she was able to see, how bodily ailments are just a God-given test in this world, and so many other things. We must have been talking for nearly an hour, my hands being stroked by hers, before her back began to hurt and she asked her daughter to walk her back. Before leaving, Fatima solemnly said to me, “I wish I could give you something, but I have nothing to offer but my prayers.” She proceeded to ask me to reach into her pocket to prove just how little she had, and I emerged with two empty vials of medicine and prayer beads. Tears sprang to my eyes as I witnessed her absolute selflessness and realized how even from what little she had, Fatima was saddened to not be able to offer me something. I told her that simply being in her presence was priceless moment that I will never forget. We parted by her telling me to ask for the “Old Lady Fatima” the next time I come to her camp, because maybe then she would be able to give me something. Fatima has an indescribably special place in my heart. I can’t wait to go back and tell her how much she has impacted my life.
Seeing people trying to salvage what unbelievably little they had and seeing them trying to help others at the same time was incredibly moving. These were all moments in which the reality of this trip truly began to sink in: I just didn’t know how I would ever go back to 'life' after this trip. I came ready for a life-changing experience, but I never expect to be this deeply moved and captivated by children asking me if I'm ever going to come back to visit them, holding my hand, offering me gifts of what little they have, sharing their world with me. Their hearts are capable of more love than I knew possible, and they continue to be hopeful even through despair. That was the moment I knew that saying goodbye would be unreal. And that was the moment I felt deeply moved by the work OBAT Helpers continues to do every single day to bring a smile to a face, to bring relief to a parent, to bring peace to a family.
My first trip to Bangladesh has left me wondering what more I, as an individual, can do to help. What kind of skills, whether personal or professional, do I possess that could help OBAT Helpers better achieve its goals? Whatever the resource I provide, it is my moral obligation to help alleviate this unjust and unnerving situation. This moral obligation exists not because I have traveled to the camps, not because my father began the organization, and not because of my background in a certain faith or a certain education: this moral obligation stems from the fact that I, as a human, must make it my duty to help others to the best of my ability.
I hope you have enjoyed the few stories I’ve shared of my trip to Bangladesh. I also hope you can one day visit the camps and see for yourself how beautiful these people are, how tragic their story is, how deep their hope runs. I hope one day OBAT Helpers can change your life the way it changed mine.
They may be referred to as ‘the Forgotten People,’
but not one single thing about them is forgettable.
Please join us as we bring awareness, love, and dignity back to these people.
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