Muhammad Noor is part of a younger generation working to change the lives of Rohingya through entrepreneurship. He is at the head and has co-founded several successful initiatives among which are the first Rohingya TV channel, the first Rohingya Football Club, a project to digitise the Rohingya language, and most recently, a plan to provide Rohingya with digital IDs, using blockchain technology.
His amazing career reveals a deep commitment to providing innovative solutions to improve the conditions of the Muslim Rohingya minority, unwanted in Myanmar, and caught in one of the world’s longest civil conflicts. iguacu had the privilege to speak with Muhammad as he shared his journey into entrepreneurship.
Born in Saudi Arabia after his family fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State in the 1970s, Muhammad said he’s struggled all his life because of his status of ‘stateless person’.
“As Rohingya we are divided in two categories: refugees and stateless. Not all Rohingya are refugees but all Rohingya are stateless.The struggles have been devastating for my immediate family, my relatives, and myself.”
Muhammad sees himself as privileged to have been able to eventually study abroad. He now uses his energy and concentrates all his ambitions to improve the lives of Rohingya while seeking to encourage international solidarity for the Rohingya.
“As Rohingya who live abroad, we are the fortunate ones, the privileged ones; so we need to have a big vision for the Rohingya community… Hope is the only thing which is sustaining us. I am here to elevate and bring some hope because if I live for myself, I am not a human being. If I don’t think about my own people, if I just care about my own children, my own family, then I am not a human being.”
Muhammad started the Rohingya Vision TV (RVision) in 2012 to raise awareness about Rohingya issues and to bring together Rohingya from around the world.
“RVision is the world’s first Rohingya TV channel and network”, he explained, “the first media coverage to bring another narrative, another side to the story.”
In just 24 hours, Muhammad said one video can reach up to 50,000 views. The TV channel is broadcasted in English and Rohingya language and uses undercover journalists in Myanmar to introduce the world to issues faced by the Rohingya.
”Since Rakhine State is under blockade and journalists are not allowed in the country, we turn Rohingya who live in Myanmar into journalists.”
Muhammad has also co-founded a project to turn Rohingya script into digital characters, a project which could help Rohingya around the world to communicate in their own language.
“As Rohingya, we not only have a spoken language but we also have a written language. People who use the written Rohingya language in Myanmar are persecuted. In fact nobody can use the written language, they would be persecuted if they did. “
It was in high school that he started to consider the possibility to digitalise the Rohingya language, after his father asked him if he thought it could one day be written on a computer.
“At the time I remember thinking, if English can be written on a computer, surely our language can be written too.”
Thanks to the help of partners with whom Muhammad collaborated, the first digitised Rohingya language could very soon be available. Last December, the Rohingya unicode was accepted as a Rohingya language by the Unicode Consortium.
Within a year or so Muhammad projects that it would be possible to develop a website, send emails, and Whatsapp messages using the Rohingya language. He is also in touch with Google to develop an online Rohingya language dictionary.
Muhammad has also been working on a plan to develop digital IDs for Rohingya, together with a Swiss blockchain startup and the University of Washington. The project is the first of its kind and could drastically improve the lives of the Rohingya.
“Today a Rohingya mother or father cannot prove that “this is my son or this is my daughter”. Identity is given to you by the government but nobody has asked the question, “What happens when the government does not recognise you?”
Shall we wait until Burma gives us an identity? We have already waited 70 years.”
With this project, Muhammad is hoping that Rohingya will be able to access basic services such as education, healthcare, transport, and have the possibility to open a bank account, take out a loan, start online banking, access micro-financing or start schools.
“Digital IDs will at least give Rohingya some dignity and sovereignty. I am not saying that digital IDs are the full antidote of the problem but it can be part of the solution because in future, everything will be digital. We cannot wait another 70 years. We also have human rights. I have knocked to the door of many politicians, including at the Silicon Valley and Hollywood. I am confident that one day somebody will open the door.”