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Syrian man in Japan opens school in Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees

A Syrian man living in Japan has opened a school in Bangladesh for young Rohingya Muslims who have fled a military crackdown in Myanmar.

Mazen Salim, 43, who runs a trade business and lives in the Toyama Prefecture city of Takaoka, established the school named Toyama Terakoya in Cox’s Bazar, a town in southeastern Bangladesh near the border with Myanmar.

Almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims, a minority in Buddhist-dominant Myanmar, fled from Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh since last August to escape the harsh crackdown launched by the Myanmar government in reprisal for attacks by an armed Rohingya faction against government security posts.

(Mazen Salim, center, at the school he established for Rohingya refgees in Bangladesh)
[Photo courtesy of Mazen Salim]

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to begin a repatriation process in January but it has since been delayed by logistical factors.

Toyama Terakoya currently has 300 students, half of whom are illiterate, and four teachers who are also refugees living in refugee camps. Bengali, Burmese and mathematics classes are held for 7 to 13 year-old boys and girls for a total of four hours a day, five days a week.

Of the 1.2 million yen ($ 10,900) initially needed to construct the simple school building made of bamboo and metal sheets and to run the school, Salim personally shouldered 400,000 yen and donations covered the rest.

Salim, who heads the Toyama Muslim Center, has been helping Muslims and non-Muslims alike. He already built an elementary school last September in his home country where a civil war has displaced millions of people.

He also collected donations and provided food for people after torrential rain last July devastated the city of Asakura in Fukuoka Prefecture, southwestern Japan.

[Photo courtesy of Mazen Salim]

After being asked to help Rohingya people in Bangladesh, Salim began making arrangements with people at refugee camps from January and collected textbooks and other necessary school materials.

When the school celebrated its opening on May 15, Salim also visited there and was greeted by children. But he said the school operation is far from stable yet.

With the school operation requiring about 600,000 yen annually, some students worry whether they can study at the school next year too, he said.

“Opening the school is merely the first step as there are many other children who need education,” said Salim, adding he plans to collect donations to continuously operate the school.

All – Kyodo News+

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