A group of young people in Waterloo Region are putting their lives on display at the University of Waterloo's Theatre of the Arts on Saturday, as they perform in a play called I Am Rohingya.

The play is based on the true stories of all the actors, whose families fled Burma, also known as Myanmar, in the 1990s and eventually immigrated to Canada.

"Almost every part of the play reminds me of my past," said Ahmed Ullah, who at 22 is the oldest member of the cast. 

Ullah said he was born in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, and that re-enacting that part of his life is painful. 

'It feels like I'm there'

"Sometimes I get stuck on my narration, because it feels like I'm there," he said. "It feels like I'm going all over through it."

But Ullah said he's willing to endure that pain, because he wants people in Canada to understand how his people are suffering in Burma.

Rohingya Muslims are often called one of the world's most persecuted people, and are fleeing their home country by the thousands.

"They're being treated like animals," said Ruma Ruma, 15, who is also acting in the play. "I don't know why."

Haunting memories

Ruma was also born in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, and although she was six years old when she left, the memory her early years still haunts her.

She remembers soldiers – from which country, she cannot remember – coming to the place where her family was living. 

"Me and my friends, we were playing outside," she said. "We started hearing shooting noises, and then they shot one of my friends, like, in front of me. I got really scared and I ran away, but my friend, she didn't make it." 

Raising awareness

The story of that death is included in the play, as well as many other traumatic memories. It follows the life experiences of many Rohingya refugees: life in Burma, escape to Bangladesh, and immigration to Canada.

"Our people – Rohingya people – they're still suffering now-a-days, and we want to... show that they need help too," Ruma said.

The youths' efforts to educate Canadians about the persecution and abuse of the Rohingya people seems to have had some success: The play's opening performance on Saturday, April 9 at the University of Waterloo's Theatre of the Arts, was sold out.