Photo Essay

A Rite of Passage

The Rohingya, an ethnic group that is predominantly Muslim, originate from the Rakhine state in Myanmar where they are being violently persecuted in what has been deemed an ethnic cleansing. These circumstances have led thousands of stateless Rohingya to flee to neighbouring countries on small, overcrowded boats – often with many casualties.

Malaysia is one of the countries that accepts Rohingya refugees; however, most of them do not have proper documentation or even legitimate status as a refugees. Several NGOs have come to help the Rohingyas, such as the Malaysian International Welfare and Humanitarian Organisation (MyWelfare), which is based in Selayang, Selangor. Some of the children are orphans living at the MyWelfare centre, while others live there with their families. All of them receive education, food and other basic necessities, organised by Ustaz Rafiq, one of the centre’s founders.

MyWelfare took the initiative of organising a circumcision ceremony last April for the Rohingya children living in Malaysia. Adat berkhatan, or the circumcision ceremony, is a Muslim custom. The ceremony is usually held for children aged between one and 12. Usually, circumcisions cost a significant fee, but a group of doctors volunteered to do it pro bono.

 

A moment of tranquillity in his mother’s arms. Some of the children are accompanied by their parents who provide support and comfort.

Children watching cartoons while waiting for their turn. The cartoons distract them and help to calm them down.

A child being carried to the ceremony. Some of the children get so nervous they are unable to able to walk, so volunteers are on standby to carry them to the circumcision room.

Children are dressed in sarongs to make it easier for them to walk after the circumcision process.

A father calms his child. It is normal for children to cry during the once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.

A boy collapses in exhaustion. The entire process is tiring for the children, in part because of the mental strain.

A boy who has just undergone the circumcision process looks on at his friend.

A mother hugs her son tight while he is undergoing the process, feeling the pain just as he does.

It is clearly not yet this boy’s turn, as he happily plays with a balloon.

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Seth Akmal was born in KL. He began working as a photojournalist after finishing his diploma in Photography and Creative Images in UiTM Seri Iskandar.
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