Visual Dictionary of Rohingya Culture
The Visual Dictionary of Rohingya Culture was conceived as a learning tool for Rohingya refugees, using their own visual language and heritage. The seed for the project was planted when I met a small group of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in 2015 in Thailand, where I was working as an educator. They had traveled by boat to reunite with their family members in a neighboring country, but never made it to their loved ones.
With little to do in their confined space, they became hungry to learn. Few learning materials were available to them, and none were relatable nor relevant to their situation. So I began to work with the Rohingya and other volunteers to create culturally sensitive illustrations in flashcard form. A cartoon of a Rohingya woman squatting near a traditional Rohingya stove better portrays the word “cook” than one a Western woman in jeans standing at an electric stove. These illustrations fostered engagement and positive feedback from all ages. Books Unbound was thus born.
In 2019, IOM’s Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre (RCMC) partnered with us to bring the Visual Dictionary to life. The RCMC’s vast collection of Rohingya artefacts, created by Rohingya artists and artisans is such a beautiful way to preserve Rohingya culture. Driven by the extensive field research conducted by RCMC team and the resulting collection of artifacts, we worked together to produce the dictionary and distribute thousands of copies to Rohingya children and youth in the camps. Our picture-based approach offers a simple, interactive way to reach literate and illiterate children and adults, and provides the Rohingya community a culturally appropriate education tool featuring their own unique heritage.
The visual dictionary can be used as a tool for conversation building, multi-language learning, reinforcing critical thinking skills, and as a platform for art-based storytelling. We are grateful to work alongside IOM and the Rohingya community to ensure accurate representation with the goal of providing a culturally sensitive learning tool for the Rohingya community around the world.
Visual Dictionary of Rohingya Culture (PDF)
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Written by Sophie Danielson, founder and managing director of Books Unbound, an organization providing informal learning materials for marginalized communities.