Maung Has a Dream: Equality for Rohingya People

Headshots of one woman and one man against a colourful background with text that reads,Plan International Canada CEO Lindsay Glassco with Activist Maung Sawyeddollah CEO CHATS

Big, Bold Ideas: Maung Has a Dream: Equality for Rohingya People

Words by Norma Hilton
Reading time: 9 minutes


Rohingya activist Maung Sawyeddollah sits down to share big, bold ideas with Plan International Canada CEO Lindsay Glassco about life in a refugee camp, his fight for the rights of all Rohingya people, and his dreams for the future.

Maung Sawyeddollah, 22 (left), is a human rights activist fighting for the rights of the Rohingya people.

Fifteen days — that’s how long Maung Sawyeddollah walked to get to safety.

Mud sloshed with every step as he and his family trekked on narrow paths beside green paddy fields along the western coast of Myanmar. Some of the younger children were covered to their necks in it. It was cold and wet from the rain. The air was thick and humid. For days, he didn’t eat.

He saw abandoned villages and houses charred to cinders. He saw dead bodies on the ground. But he didn’t stop. Like everyone around him, Maung was propelled forward by the single-minded desire to survive.

After more than two weeks, Maung and his family arrived in Bangladesh. They were among the more than 1 million people who were displaced from Rakhine state in Myanmar when violence erupted there.

Now, six years later, most of the Rohingya refugees, like 22-year-old Maung, live a precarious existence in Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh and in other parts of the world. Governments are also restricting their movement, livelihoods and education. Many set off on a dangerous and treacherous journey by boat to places like Indonesia, hoping for a better life.


We are in the same planet. We share the same sky, and we share the same sun. But the only difference is you are having a good life, but I am not.”

–Maung Sawyeddollah, a Rohingya activist working to advance the rights of his community from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Four facts about the Rohingya refugee crisis

More than 1.2 million Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar since the start of violence in 2017.

More than 900,000 people live in refugee camps in Bangladesh – including people in camps in Cox’s Bazar and on the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal.

A young man and a teenage girl standing side-by-side for Eid celebrations.
Maung (top right) met with the Camp 1W team of the Rohingya Students Network to elect a representative in January 2024.
A group of women wearing hijabs and burqas sitting together talking to each other.
One of a series of awareness sessions held by the Rohingya Students Network about gender-based violence and women’s rights.
A group of men sitting down and listening to a speech.
The participants of the 22 22 convention. Both men and women participated but were separated into two groups.

Around 400,000 school-aged children are among the more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims living in Cox’s Bazar. Plan International is working to make sure they receive the education they need.

Plan International is at the forefront of education and health programming in Cox’s Bazar, leading on education, early childhood development, protection, and child and youth leadership.


What you should know about Maung

1 When Maung was growing up, his house and village were surrounded by mango, coconut and banana trees. Elephants would sometimes walk in!

2 He played chinlone (pronounced “chin-loan-eh”), the traditional national sport of Myanmar and a popular ball game.

3 Maung was a good student and wanted to be a doctor as a youth. Now, he wants to be a lawyer.

4 He was named a laureate at the 2023 Young Activists Summit at the United Nations in Geneva.

5 He was offered admission to New York University to study international studies, which includes courses such as international law and international human rights.

Holding Big Tech to account

People like Maung continue to fight for Rohingya rights – even from refugee camps. He is the founder of the Rohingya Students Network, an independent, community-based non-profit organization run by Rohingya students and youth in the camp where Maung lives.

The network advocates for better living conditions in the camps, organizes youth workshops to empower the community and connects Rohingya refugees with international courts to help them pursue justice – even against tech giants like Meta.

Maung, who dreams of becoming a lawyer, is suing Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) for the alleged role that Facebook’s algorithm played in fostering the spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate content against the Rohingyas in 2017. He and his community are demanding that Meta pay reparations by funding educational programs in Cox’s Bazar. He believes that education will help the Rohingya people get one step closer to rebuilding their lives.

Q&A with Rohingya rights activist Maung Sawyeddollah

This is the latest interview in our series CEO Chats: Big, Bold Ideas for a Brighter Tomorrow, where Plan International Canada CEO Lindsay Glassco speaks with some of the brightest young people around the world who are striving to make the future a safer, sustainable and equal place for all.

Lindsay Glassco with Activist Maung Sawyeddollah

Becoming an activist

Lindsay Glassco
Q: What made you want to become an activist?

Maung Sawyeddollah
A: It’s still very rare [for] organizations, agencies or states [to include Rohingya people in decision making], which is really frustrating. They are taking decisions for the Rohingya, but the Rohingya people aren’t aware what they are taking decisions about. After reaching Cox’s Bazar, I started thinking, “Why had I left my home?” I had dreams. I had my home. I had my village. I had my school there. Why had I become homeless? I started reading about the history of our people. … When I started learning more about our people, I came to understand the situation.

A young man and a teenage girl standing side-by-side for Eid celebrations.
Maung with his sister during the last Eid Al Fitr festival, in the shelter where he lives in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Fighting misinformation

Q: How can young people use social media to move a cause that’s near and dear to them forward?

A: If there’s misinformation on social media, it’s our responsibility to say it’s misinformation, which means we are using social media to share positivity to bring positive changes.

What leadership looks like

Q: So, you are clearly a leader, an incredibly strong leader. I can hear it. I can hear the passion. I’m wondering: What does leadership mean to you?

A: For me, it’s very simple – leaders must be those who know the ways or create the ways and show those ways and go those ways.

How to be an activist

Q: What advice do you have for youth if they want to start their activism journey?

A: I believe every young person must be an activist. When I say I am an activist, [it means] I definitely have a goal. I definitely have a focus. I definitely have an objective that I’m working on. As an activist, I want to bring change. I must always remember that there are people who don’t want change.

Q: What are some everyday things everyone can do or should be doing?

A: Raising more awareness, which is only possible by us, by people like us, who are activists and who really bring changes. So what we need to do is use every possible way to reach people, to bring understanding in the mind of people using different ways. We can use art; we can use communications; we can use different games; we can use different kind of activities, many different things. Let’s say social media, for example: If I put something and it is seen by hundreds, it is seen by thousands. We can also use social media for a good reason in that case as well. So, once we – everyone in this world – can understand that your peace is my peace, once people can understand that thing, once this is in the mind of the people, then the entire world will be in peace. That is what I believe.

Three men talking and smiling with each other while they’re sitting at a desk.
Maung (right) is part of the Rohingya Forcibly Displaced Myanmar National Representative Committee (Ro FDMN-RC). This group advocates for Rohingya people living in refugee camps in Bangladesh to be involved in decisions that affect their lives.

A message to young people around the world

Q: For youth who are interested in becoming involved in activism, what are some suggestions you might have for them?

A: I know there are people like me, [and] there are younger people in other parts of the world having beautiful lives. They don’t have any tension; they are just having a joyful life. So, a message to those younger people today is this: Today you are enjoying. Today you are having a good life. But there are also some people in some other parts of the world who have the same things like you, who are the same human like you, and we also share lots of things in common. We are in the same planet. We share the same sky and we share the same sun, you know? But the only difference is you are having a good life and I am not. Absence of peace in a place is a threat to peace everywhere. So today the peace is absent here; tomorrow your peace will be gone, because everything in this world is interconnected.

Dreams for the future

Q: What’s your big dream in life?

A: I have different dreams. The long-term one is to return to my home in Myanmar and to be able to stay in peace. Short-term, my goal is to continue my education. I recently got admission to New York University.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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