Professor Jim Gambone seeks to clothe Rohingya rape survivors


As a professor of public health, Jim Gambone has studied a lot of human disasters. But something about the Rohingya crisis moved him like he's never been moved before.

Last summer when the Burmese military started burning the villages of the Muslim ethnic minority group Rohingya, international news was full of stories of murder and rape out carried under the disturbingly indifferent gaze of former civil rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Rohingya survivors of the military's atrocities -- many of them unaccompanied orphans -- crossed jungles and rivers as they fled to neighboring Bangladesh. More than 750,000 now live there in the world's largest refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, where it's estimated 40,000 babies will be born in 2018.

It was during a news report on Cox's Bazar that Capella University Prof. Jim Gambone saw a midwife describe how women and young girls would arrive at camp wearing the same clothes they had been raped in. As a graduate professor of public health, the Rohingya genocide wasn't exactly an eye-opening situation for him, but something about that image crawled into his brain and firmly planted itself there.

"I've heard these stories before, but that hit me more than anything else had before," Gambone says. "Can we get these women and girls a change of clothes?"

Gambone contacted Doctors without Borders with an idea to provide Muslim-appropriate clothing. He was told to reach out to NGO ActionAid, which already had humanitarian workers providing women refugees with "dignity kits" made of dresses, shawls, underwear, and shoes, but no particular fundraising campaign to support them.

"What he was having trouble with, in large NGOS, was a project that could specifically donate to survivors of rape. And then he found us," says ActionAid executive director Marie Clarke. "This at the moment is the only 'Project Dignity' that focuses specifically on these kits."

Clarke flew in to Minneapolis on Thursday for a benefit Gambone hosted at Gandhi Mahal restaurant in Longfellow, which is owned by Bangladeshi-American Ruhel Islam. ActionAid guided attendees through 360 virtual reality tours of Cox's Bazar and collected donations for the Bangladeshi-made dignity kits, which cost $25 apiece.

Gambone says his goal is to collect enough money for 4,000 kits, a total of $100,000.


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