It's really important for the world to see that we are more than just refugees.

26-year-old Rohingya refugee Rahman reflects on growing up in Malaysia, building a better life through education, and his hopes for refugee children in Malaysia

I believe education has the power to change lives.
© UNHCR/Rahman Iman Hussein

My name is Rahman Iman Hussein. I am 26, and I go by my nickname, Prince.

My parents are Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. They fled from the conflict on a boat in the late 80s and have been living in Malaysia since. I was born and grew up here. Even though I am a refugee, I feel that I am a Malaysian at heart. 

I was born in Penang and spent my childhood in a community of Rohingya refugees in a rural part of Penang. Our home was a makeshift cargo container fitted with windows and doors. It got extremely hot in the afternoons, but we managed. There was a pond where my father fished, and there was some space where he worked as a blacksmith. I spent my time just running around outdoors with my sister. We did not have much, but life was simple.

In 2000, we moved to Kuala Lumpur when I was five years old. For the first time, I met other children of other races and cultures. The more I played with local kids near our home, the more I realized our differences. Every day, they would go to school while I stayed behind. That was when it struck me that we, as refugees, did not have the same rights.

Our home was so remote that there were no schools nearby for refugee children. When I turned 10 years old, my parents decided to enroll me in an informal madrasah. I have vivid memories of my first experience in school. It was traumatic. I was bullied and called names because I was different. It was a difficult start, but I learnt to stay strong.

A year later, I enrolled in an NGO learning centre - the Dignity for Children Foundation, DCF. It was a place for underprivileged and refugee children from all walks of life. There, I realized how a supportive environment could nurture a child. I finally felt accepted, and I bloomed.
When I was 17 and graduated from fifth form at DCF, I took a year to teach the refugee children in my neighbourhood. Many of them were not going to school, and most did not even know the alphabet, even at 11. Every day, I taught about 20 students in the living room of someone’s home in my neighbourhood.

I believe education has the power to change lives.

After many times of trying, I secured a scholarship to study at a private university with the help of UNHCR and DCF. But even though I have graduated with a Bachelor's in Marketing and International Business, I could not get legal work because of my refugee status. But I’ve learnt to look at things positively. I showed that refugees can have a future too.

Today I work on many things. I work remotely for a financial data science company. I also find work in the entertainment industry as a model and actor, and I have some other ideas in the pipeline to earn an income.

And I am the vice-president of an NGO, Paint the World (Malaysia), working with underprivileged children.

I do things differently, perhaps just to break out of that mould that people set for refugees, that you cannot dream big, you cannot be an actor, you cannot be on the cover of a big fashion magazine. So I wanted to set an example for other refugees and to show that there are many different ways of doing things.

At Paint the World (Malaysia), I help organize workshops and courses for underprivileged children and refugees. Plans are also in the works to create an academy to give children access to education and develop their soft skills. I know firsthand how a supportive environment can allow a child to grow, learn and be somebody, and I hope to provide this environment for others too.

It’s really important for the world to see that we are more than just refugees. We have passions and dreams. There is so much more we can do for society if we have the opportunity.

26-year-old Rohingya refugee Rahman reflects on growing up in Malaysia, building a better life through education, and his hopes for refugee children in Malaysia

I believe education has the power to change lives.   © UNHCR/Rahman Iman Hussein