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Cox’s Bazar: An Aid Worker’s Journal – Part 2

A Rohingya refugee overlaps her home with mud to repair the cracked areas of her home, one that is primarily constructed of mud. Photo by Nihab Rahman. All other photos by Scott J. Will.


Physician assistant Scott Will recently spent a month providing medical care to Rohingya people from Myanmar living in a large refugee camp outside Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. This week we bring you Part 2 of his camp journal. Check out Part 1 here!

We’ve added an Editor’s Note to guide you through our full four-part series covering the life of the Rohingya people living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

 DECEMBER 24, 2017

All the cards were hung in the kitchen with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there…

Thankful for my teammates from all around the world! Delighted that others joined in with Christmas cheer to decorate a tree, make snowflakes, watch Christmas movies, belt out Christmas songs, act all crazy with me (okay, that’s relatively normal for me!), and in general, spread holiday cheer!

DECEMBER 25, 2017

Merry Christmas from Bangladesh! Even in a Muslim-majority country, Christmas trees can be found. Oh the influence of Western culture….Merry Christmas to all!

DECEMBER 27, 2017

A big part of what I’m doing in Bangladesh, and what I did in Uganda and South Sudan, is taking limited resources and trying to get the maximum potential from them.

I could spend thousands of dollars to help a kid get the heart surgery she needs, as she will likely die from the problem if she does not have the surgery. Or I could spend that money to buy medications to help 200 kids with pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening disease. Tough choices when lives may be lost or saved based on which decisions are made.

Luckily most patients I see are not too severe, and in some cases I can improvise when what I really want is not available. There is no oxygen at the small clinic where I’m stationed, so when I would really like to use a nebulizer machine for a child with asthma, I make do with a paper cup and an inhaler. At least I have an inhaler!

This is basically the life of medical personnel in resource limited settings: look at what is available, weigh your choices, and try to maximize benefits. Pros and cons to all decisions, ultimately trying to do your best with what you have.

DECEMBER 28, 2017

Wonderful day off fishing in leech-infested waters (yes, I have seen the leeches…on me!), visiting a coworker’s family in the village and enjoying their generous hospitality, wandering around pink water lily-filled ponds, jumping in the Bay of Bengal, drinking an iced latte, and relaxing by the beach. The work days are long and many, so I’m cherishing time off today as a gift.

DECEMBER 31, 2017

Kids, kites, latrines, chickens, dirt paths, trash, teammates, uncertainty, flexibility, beauty, water, fatigue, community, hope: all words that come to mind as I think of living in Bangladesh and working at the refugee camps.

One week until my departure back to the USA. The past three weeks have felt like three years in some ways and three seconds in others. Little time thus far to reflect on my experiences, pausing at this moment trying to let my mind realize a new year is about to begin. I hope it is restful and reflective and restorative for myself and so many I know.

Happy New Year.

JANUARY 3, 2018

Only four days until I’ll be saying goodbye to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and heading back to the USA for my next adventure. Every time I leave the primary care health center where I often work, the local kids scramble to line up and shout, “Bye bye. Tátá tátá.” I think it is the highlight of the day for them and for me.

JANUARY 6, 2018

Today was my last day working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Tomorrow I begin the long trek home. So many local people and internationals helped bring joy to my days. The people in this photo are truly rock stars of epic proportions.

JANUARY 11, 2018

Night three back in the USA. I slept from 10:30 p.m. – 3:00 a.m. Progress. I find I’m highly productive at the wee hours, like watching Amazon Prime videos and posting things on social media…These kids were so very precious and well-behaved. I saw them one by one in clinic, and they obliged my photo request. Seeing kids helped brighten my days in the refugee camps. Their innocence is admirable and ability to adapt is commendable.


DECEMBER 26, 2017

Every morning I ride in a van to the refugee camps. Those 75 minutes are full of crazy driving and narrow roads. Then I get to walk for 20 minutes to our little clinic. Then repeat it in reverse at the end of the day. The walk through the camps is usually the highlight of my day. I like being in and amongst the people, experiencing the paradox of brokenness and beauty.

I like being in and amongst the people, experiencing the paradox of brokenness and beauty.

DECEMBER 30, 2017

Kids and their kites. Kites are popular with locals and with the refugee population. Made from sticks and plastic bags, every day I see them fluttering and soaring high above. They are reminders that children are children the world around and families across the globe seek security and safety and a better future for their kids.

JANUARY 2, 2018

As I walk amongst what many would consider a disaster of tragic proportions, and a situation that would no doubt cause some to cry, especially those who have never been surrounded by poverty, I find myself asking why I don’t see the brokenness every day, every moment that I am in the refugee camp. Have I become immune to other individuals’ suffering?

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been surrounded by poverty of similar or greater extent before, maybe it’s because I’ve blocked my senses through busyness and task-oriented focus. Or maybe, just maybe, I hope, it is because my mind sees the humanity in the people I encounter and sees the kinship of fellow travelers through life, each of whom is trying to eke out a better existence. I hope I’m recognizing brokenness but choosing to focus on the hopefulness and common purpose and similarities; I hope I am not minimizing struggle and tragedy, but trying to see, really see, that we are all connected in meaningful ways, and that by helping my brother or sister thousands of miles away, I am also helping myself.

All this is creating a greater context for processing and experiencing life, for how I view good and evil, hope and hopelessness. It is helping me see how insignificant I am in the scheme of humanity, while allowing me to see how meaningful my actions can be to one individual.

I hope I’m recognizing brokenness but choosing to focus on the hopefulness and common purpose and similarities…It is helping me see how insignificant I am in the scheme of humanity, while allowing me to see how meaningful my actions can be to one individual.

JANUARY 5, 2018

The organization I am working with in Bangladesh is Medical Teams International, a non-profit organization based out of the USA. Its role in the refugee camps is multifaceted. One of my favorite programs is the Community Health Workers (CHW) program. These workers are vital in disseminating health information and performing contact tracing for diphtheria patients. The four people in this photo have been a huge asset to the work of the CHWs, daily commuting long distances (2.5 hour drive one-way!) to a far-away camp to ensure the refugees there have access to services. Thank you to all those that have been involved previously and currently to make the CHW program a reality!

JANUARY 8, 2018

Was I really in Bangladesh? It’s all a blur after 44 hours of return travel, and now it’s 4 a.m. and I’m exhausted but wide awake. So very thankful for my experience. Hoping now I can take some time to process after a very busy month.

JANUARY 9, 2018

Oh brothers, where art thou? Night two back in the USA, and as predicted, I have been awake from midnight and still going strong at 3 a.m. Jet lag: the downfall of traveling to far-away places and multiple time zones away. Ahmad Bin Solaiman and Abdullah Solaiman are brothers that both work as interpreters. They are two unique individuals that love to sing and have fun and generally make life better for all those around them. And let’s not forget Abdullah’s amazing Hamilton rap skills, and Ahmad’s ability to give great compliments! Miss you guys!

JANUARY 12, 2018

4:30 a.m, jet leg still present. Pondering the past five weeks as my mind transitions to what lies ahead. Even amidst squalor and poverty, shack after shack built as home, there is beauty and color to be found.

On January 20, I leave the Mainland U.S. again. (Did I mention I have been on 30 different planes in the past 14 months?) I am heading to Hawaii, where I will be working with primarily native Hawaiians for six months on the far western coast of Oahu, one of the poorer sections of the islands. 

Trusting and hoping that my eyes will always choose to see beauty, no matter where I am. Whether raining or sunny, may rainbows always be found.




Author profile
Scott J. Will

Scott J. Will has been creating culinary delights, listening with an empathetic ear, and frequenting local coffee shops everywhere he goes. A physician assistant by trade and traveler by heart, with a penchant for serving the underserved, he has lived all over the place, including Uganda and South Sudan. He currently resides on Oahu in Hawaii.

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