Photo Essay: Gold in the Kutupalong Camp

For Rohingya women, gold is multifaceted: it represents security and beauty, but also risk and vulnerability.

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Fariba S. Alam


May 20, 2019

I first visited the Rohingya refugee settlements in 2018 on a trip with a local development worker to research the material and fabric culture of the Rohingya. At Camp Kutupalong, in the hilly terrain of Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, I spoke with families about their stories of survival on their journeys from Myanmar. I witnessed trauma and loss, but also deep social nuance and joy — new births, love marriages, and teenage crushes. I saw children singing and playing soccer and I even met a man who hosted his own radio show.

One unexpected sight: gold jewelry shops. For Rohingya women, gold is multifaceted. Women are often the most in danger, but by carrying gold, which holds undeniable value both within the camps and outside them, they are also the most powerful. I realized I would return to the Rohingya camps many more times for my fieldwork and decided to share these glimpses of camp life. I invited Jennifer Chowdhury, a journalist working in Cox’s Bazar, to join me in researching this story. Together, we located women and families who would talk to us about the value of gold, and their journey with it.

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