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Reddit Value at $3B After $300M in Finance Led by Tencent

Social media service Reddit Inc. says it has raised $300 million in a financing round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman, told CNBC on Monday that values the privately held company at $3 billion.

Half the new money came from Tencent, Asia’s most valuable tech company. Other investors included Sequoia, Fidelity, Andreessen Horowitz, Quiet Capital, VY and Snoop Dogg.

The announcement prompted criticism of Reddit for linking itself with a company from China, where the ruling Communist Party enforces extensive online censorship. Access to Reddit is blocked in China.

Tencent operates online games and popular WeChat social media service. It owns 40 percent of “Fortnite” creator Epic Games and 15 percent of photo service Snap.

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Acrimony, Fear Reign in Thailand Following Princess’s PM Ploy

The dramatic foray of a Thai princess into the country’s election, which collapsed almost as dramatically as it began over the weekend, has returned Thai politics to a familiar state of turmoil and fear.

 

In a country that has endured more than 30 attempted coups since 1932, 12 of them successful, rumors are now circulating wildly of another.

 

“More has happened politically in the past five days than has happened in 15 years, if not 20 years, in Thailand. And this is creating a lot of confusion and everyone is scrambling to keep up with what’s happening,” said Thailand based political risk consultant George McLeod.

 

Princess Ubolratana Mahidol triggered the pandemonium on Friday by registering as a prime ministerial candidate for upcoming March 24 elections – an unprecedented royal foray into frontline politics.

Initially it was heralded as a political masterstroke as the popular princess was considered a far more appealing electoral prospect than incumbent military junta rule Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

 

But the move was quickly struck down – first by her younger brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who called it highly inappropriate and unconstitutional hours later, and then by the Election Commission on Monday.

 Thai royals have long been held to embody a higher moral purity that serves to lift the country above the pettiness of political bickering.

 

Rules preclude them from participating directly in party politics, though the princess believed she was exempt from these because she relinquished her royal title in 1972.

 

Thailand’s ultra royalists are still angry over her short dalliance with Thai Raksa Chart – a party under the control of their staunch enemy, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

 

Thaksin and the royalists have been quarreling for most of the last two decades in a bitter feud that has fueled bloodshed and two coups, including one in 2014 that returned the country to its current state of military rule.

 

Now concerns are growing that the already fragile process that was to see a transition back to civilian rule – albeit with many autocratic, military friendly caveats built into the system – could collapse.

 

A political pressure group called The Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, has pushed the Election Commission to dissolve Thai Raksa Chart entirely.

 

Thai Raksa Chart has reportedly hit back with a member filing a complaint that calls on the commission to disqualify current Prime Minister Prayuth for an alleged constitutional breach as well.

Future Forward party spokesperson Pannika Wanich said that in political circles it was considered a near certainty that Thai Raksa Chart would be dissolved.

 

But a greater worry for her was that the political turmoil would be used as a justification to call off or postpone the election.

 

“It is hard to predict Thailand’s political situation right now, but I would say it’s quite gloomy and we don’t expect a coup to happen anytime soon but there is quite a chance, maybe a 30 or 40 percent, of some political accident might happen,” she said.

 

Pannika said her party was focused on cooling tensions and restoring normality but that if another coup was attempted they would do whatever they could to prevent it.

 

“We cannot accept that – three coup d’etats in 12 years. That’s too much,” she said.

 

McLeod said a series of events over the weekend, including the deployment of police, had fueled the rumors.

 

“You know at the time it’s a very fast situation and I personally didn’t really hang my hat on there being a coup.”  he said. “The authorities that were mobilized were police and they were mobilized for the purpose of crowd control, which is consistent with the fact that the EC (Election Commission) is in the process of dissolving the [Thai Raksa Chart] party and possibly Pheu Thai as well.”

Pheu Thai is the major party controlled by Thaksin’s red-shirt movement and observers have suggested it could also be dissolved by the commission on the grounds that it is linked to Thai Raksa Chart.

McLeod said it looked like Thaksin would pay a heavy price for the stunt.

 

“What we know is that Thaksin took a gamble and he lost. He took a high stakes gamble and he lost and he lost on something that was the wild card,” he said.

 

But Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, suggested Thaksin may have got exactly what he wanted.

 

“If this would be a plot of Thaksin’s party to try and further politicize the monarchy then Thaksin has become successful. If this an attempt on the part of Thaksin to show there is a conflict within members of royal family, then again Thaksin has become successful,” he said.

 

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China to Fund Installation of Modern Facilities at Pakistan-Afghan Border Crossings

China plans to fund and install modern reception centers, drinking water and cold storage facilities at main entry points on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Chinese project aims to better serve the daily movement of tens of thousands of people as well as trade convoys, and will help ease tensions between the two countries, officials said.

Beijing, which is on good terms with both countries, continues to undertake diplomatic and economic initiatives to help improve Islamabad’s troubled ties with Kabul and encourage them to jointly work for a political settlement with the Taliban to end the Afghan war.

The deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, Zhao Lijian, told VOA in a wide-ranging interview the border development program is an outcome of recent high-level talks held in Kabul between foreign ministers of the three countries.

“We are trying to promote these projects so that it can help with the improvement of relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan and also finally it would be helpful with peace and development in Afghanistan,” Lijian noted. The trilateral dialogue, he said, was initiated by Beijing in late 2017 with a mission to promote “counterterrorism, strategic dialogue and pragmatic cooperation” among the three nations.

Lijian explained that the cold storage facilities will be established at the busy northwestern Torkham and southwestern Chaman crossings while the water schemes will be installed at the Ghulam Khan Khel terminal in North Waziristan district.

“Small businessmen they are entering Torkham and Chaman everyday so if there is some cold storage facilities they could use those facilities to store their fruits. If there is a proper reception center and a drinking water scheme, those kind of facilities may serve the people in a better way,” Lijian said.

Pakistan consumes 90 percent of Afghan fresh fruits and vegetables, according to official estimates. Islamabad recently waived off regulatory duties on fresh fruit imports from Afghanistan, leading to an estimated 30 percent increase in Afghan exports to Pakistan in 2018. Officials say some 60,000 people commute across the border between the two countries.

Overall bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan has significantly declined in recent years due to political tensions. Moreover, Pakistani authorities are unilaterally constructing a robust fence to secure the nearly 2,600 kilometer porous Afghan border and tighten monitoring of cross-border movement to deter militant infiltration.

China and the Afghan conflict

The Taliban, championed by China as a political force in Afghanistan, allegedly uses Pakistan as a sanctuary for directing insurgent activities. Islamabad in turn accuses Afghan intelligence agencies of sheltering fugitive anti-state militants and supporting terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

Beijing has invested billions of dollars to help build infrastructure projects, power plants, ports and industrial zones in Pakistan as part of President Xi Jinping’s global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The bilateral project, known as China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), was implemented five years ago, creating tens of thousands of jobs for Pakistanis, and effectively resolving the country’s electricity crisis.

Lijian said extending CPEC to Afghanistan, which is part of BRI, is under consideration to develop and improve trade routes through the war-ravaged country to Central Asia markets.

“For China, we have been having this 40 years of economic development, reforms and opening up, and in Afghanistan for these last 40 years they have been suffering from chaos, from civil war, from foreign occupation. So, we are very much sympathetic with Afghan people and we would like to extend a helping hand to them,” he said.

China hails Pakistan’s role

Lijian defended Beijing’s close contacts with the Taliban, saying they are used to encourage the insurgents to seek an inclusive political understanding with incumbents in Kabul to help “manage” if not end Afghan hostilities in the near future.

“Pakistan has been helping the United States and the Taliban to have direct talks and it is playing a very critical role. We hope that the peace process can take some root in the heart of the people, not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan,” the deputy Chinese ambassador noted.

A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar told VOA his group maintains close contacts with China and believes the Chinese are well placed to assist in resolving the Afghan crisis.

“We really appreciate their latest public stance of declaring the Taliban as a political force in Afghanistan. They understand the ground realities in our country. Their stance could be really helpful for Afghan peace building,” Suhail Shaheen noted.

US peace talks with Taliban

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has held several direct meetings with the Taliban in recent months, triggering hopes the dialogue could help jumpstart long-sought intra-Afghan peace negations.

Pakistan takes credit for arranging the U.S.-Taliban peace talks to help bring an end to years of bloodshed in Afghanistan, saying peace in the neighboring country is key to promoting regional development.

Beijing has noted U.S. plans to draw down troops in Afghanistan if progress is achieved in talks Washington is holding with the Taliban. But Lijian cautioned against staging a hasty withdrawal.

“They should have a plan to withdraw from Afghanistan in a gradual way and during this process they should also try to promote the intra-Afghanistan dialogue so that when the American troops leave Afghanistan, Afghanistan will not be condemned into a chaotic situation like before,” the Chinese official noted.

China’s security concerns are also behind its stepped-up Afghan diplomacy. Officials in Beijing worry that continued instability in Afghanistan could encourage terrorist groups, including the anti-China militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), to foment problems in the western border region of Xinjiang.

International human rights groups have expressed concerns that authorities in Xinjiang are allegedly forcing Uighur and other Muslim minorities to renounce their religious beliefs in internment camps set up under the guise of vocational education centers. China rejects the charges as Western media propaganda.

 

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У Кремлі відмовилися коментувати слова Мадуро про купівлю ракет у Росії

Речник президента Росії Дмитро Пєсков відмовився коментувати слова президента Венесуели Ніколаса Мадуро про купівлю «тисячі ракетних установок класу «земля-повітря» російського виробництва».

«Я це залишаю без коментарів», – заявив Пєсков у відповідь на прохання журналістів підтвердити або спростувати повідомлення, яке Мадуро розмістив у своєму Twitter.

Водночас прихильники венесуельської опозиції готуються знову вийти на вулиці міст, щоб продовжити тиск на Мадуро і закликати його до пропуску через кордон гуманітарних конвоїв.

Три тижні тому лідер опозиції Хуан Гуайдо проголосив себе президентом Венесуели, заявивши, що переобрання Мадуро стало результатом маніпуляцій. Більшість країн Заходу, включаючи США, визнали законність Гуайдо на посаді глави держави, але Мадуро продовжує спиратися на підтримку Росії і Китаю, одночасно зберігаючи контроль над державними органами й установами, включаючи збройні сили.

На даний момент головною розбіжністю в протидії опозиції і влади є доставка гуманітарної допомоги. 35-річний Гуайдо координує дії західних партнерів, які намагаються доставити ліки та харчі до Венесуели.

Мадуро, який заявляє, що ніякої кризи немає, засуджує надання допомоги, називає ці дії «демонстративної акцією під керівництвом США» і не дозволяє гуманітарним конвоям перетинати кордон країни.

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Арктичне повітря поступово заходить в Україну – синоптик

В Україну поступово заходить арктичне повітря, повідомила синоптик Наталка Діденко на своїй сторінці у Facebook.

За її словами, вночі 13 лютого на заході та півночі України похолоднішає до 1-5 градусів морозу. У денні години там очікують 0-3 градуси морозу.

На сході у південній частині вдень буде тепліше, 3-7 градусів тепла. У центральних областях – найхолодніше на Вінниччині, найтепліше в районах Дніпра.

«Мокрий сніг найближчої ночі йтиме на півночі та на північному сході. Завтра вдень місцями невеликі опади ймовірні у північних та західних областях, загалом у середу в Україні переважатиме суха погода. Внаслідок похолодання слизота на дорогах та тротуарах посилиться», – розповіла Діденко.

Синоптик заявила, що «у Києві 13 лютого циклон вже не гостюватиме, без істотних опадів, максимум – місцями невеликий сніг та мряка». Температура повітря знизиться до 1-4 градусів морозу, вдень – 0-2 градуси морозу.

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У Мадриді почався суд у справі 12 каталонських сепаратистських лідерів

У Мадриді почався суд у справі 12 каталонських сепаратистських лідерів через невизнаний Мадридом референдум про незалежність Каталонії від Іспанії 2017 року.

Справу розглядає Верховний суд Іспанії.

Підсудним, серед яких колишні міністри, екс-спікер парламенту Каталонії та лідери організацій, що виступали за незалежність регіону, висунули звинувачення, зокрема в заколоті, закликах до заколоту і нецільовому використанні державних коштів.

Всі підсудні обвинувачення відкидають.

Напередодні суду 10 лютого десятки тисяч людей вийшли на вулиці Мадрида, щоб продемонструвати свою підтримку єдності країни.

Референдум, на якому більшість тих, хто взяв участь, висловилися за незалежність, відбувся в Каталонії 1 жовтня 2017 року. Пізніше парламент у Барселоні проголосував за проголошення незалежності автономного регіону.

Читайте також: Чому Каталонія, яка бореться за незалежність, лякає Євросоюз?

Проте на референдумі була низька явка, і Конституційний суд Іспанії визнав його незаконним.

Центральна влада в Мадриді запровадила своє правління в регіоні, а кілька каталонських лідерів залишили країну або були затримані.

У червні цього року у Каталонії склав присягу новий регіональний уряд на чолі з Кімом Торрою, соратником колишнього каталонського лідера Карлеса Пучдемона, при якому в регіоні відбувся невизнаний Мадридом референдум про незалежність.

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‘Water from Air’ Aims to Turn Back Thailand’s Tide of Plastic

Staying at a hotel on the Thai island of Koh Samui in 2015, Meghan Kerrigan noticed the four bottles of water she was given every day were clogging her bin with plastic.

Outside her door, Chaweng beach was smothered in rubbish. It was then that she and Kohler brothers, Ryan and Matthew, had a “light-bulb moment.”

“Instead of trying to solve the problem by cleaning the beaches every day, let’s go to what the source of the problem is, and take the plastic bottle away,” said Kerrigan, now 31.

In 2016, the trio founded startup company Generation Water, based on the Thai resort island of Phuket.

They partnered with Marriott, the world’s largest hotel brand, in January 2017 to come up with a sustainable alternative to plastic bottles that would be commercially competitive and meet the needs of resorts and authorities.

Two years on, the South African-born entrepreneurs explained the workings of a pilot water plant at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa on Mai Khao beach, next to slogans saying “Save Water Drink Air” and “Made 100% from the air.”

Here, in the sweltering heat, two water generators suck in vapor from the air, which then condenses into water when it hits cold coils.

The water drips into tanks, making 4,000 liters a day. It is filtered, minerals are added, and it is put into reusable glass bottles. These are placed into 445 guestrooms at the JW Marriott Phuket and neighboring Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa.

The bottled water is also being trialed at two Marriott vacation clubs nearby.

The move is part of a wider effort on the holiday island to cut down on plastic bottles, rife in the hospitality industry, and a major problem in Asia and its travel hotspots.

Sustainable shift

In many parts of Asia, tap water is unsafe to drink, so hotel guests get complimentary water, mostly in plastic bottles.

As much as 60 percent of the plastic found in the ocean comes from five Asian nations, including Thailand, according to U.S.-based nonprofit group Ocean Conservancy.

In 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific organized a forum to encourage sustainable water management on resort islands.

On Phuket, which is half the size of Hong Kong, more hotels are being built, and water is already in short supply.

Trucks navigate crowded roads as resorts without their own catchment area bring in water from reservoirs.

Phuket was the world’s 11th top city destination in 2017, with 11.6 million international arrivals, according to global research company Euromonitor International.

To cope with the environmental impacts of this influx, nearly 70 hotels from the Phuket Hotels Association have pledged to cut plastic bottles and straws by the end of 2019.

Since Marriott started producing its own water four months ago, it has stopped more than 100,000 plastic bottles from entering landfill or oceans, the chain says.

It plans to expand the scheme to all Marriott resorts in southern Thailand, handing out 4 million glass bottles.

Carsten Siebert, Marriott International’s director of operations for Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, said the company understood it had “a greater obligation to operate responsibly given our expanding global footprint.”

The chain has a goal to reduce water consumption per occupied room by 20 percent between 2007 and 2020.

‘Climate-positive’

The “water from air” technology uses 78 percent less energy than producing standard bottled water, has a lower carbon footprint, and is about a third cheaper, Generation Water says.

“The good thing is that it starts to become financially affordable,” said Matthias Y. Sutter, general manager at JW Marriott Phuket.

Nor does the system rely on pulling water from the ground, rivers or lakes.

“We don’t have to invest in land to secure our own water,” said Kanokwan Homcha-aim, corporate social responsibility manager for the same Marriott hotel.

Guests here have reacted positively since the bottled water was introduced in September, happy that “finally a big brand made a move,” she said.

They also like the taste. Michael Lawson, a lawyer from Sydney sitting at the Sala Sawasdee lobby bar, said his children were “quite picky” about water. “But it’s very refreshing and they are fighting over it in the room,” he said.

Downstairs in the Siam Deli, teenage student Jeremy Frydman from Melbourne said it was better than tap water at home.

One challenge for Generation Water is explaining the science behind the technology.

Many guests ask about air pollution, for example. But the water collected is clean to start with, and the technology still works if the air is polluted as only water condenses, not the air or its contaminants, said Ryan Kohler.

And with human activities emitting more greenhouse gases, the atmosphere is warming up, causing more water to evaporate, which further heats the air in “a vicious circle,” he added.

The water-from-air system helps reduce this vapor, said Kerrigan, adding that it has no impact on rainfall levels.

Thailand’s food and drug administration approved Generation Water last August, and the company is now expanding.

It is building a plant in Phuket, which will use solar energy to make “climate-positive” water, producing more than 20,000 liters of water per day by the end of the year.

Nine Marriott resorts on Phuket are in the process of signing up, along with 30 other hotels.

Generation Water is now eyeing the rest of Thailand, and is talking to hotels in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Maldives, Kohler said.

It also sells smaller water production units that can be used in homes, offices, classrooms and yachts.

The company’s goal is to stop 1 billion 500 ml plastic bottles from entering landfills and the oceans every year by the end of 2021 — equal to supplying 3,000 hotels of 250 rooms.

As for Marriott staff on Phuket, they have “no excuse now,” said Homcha-aim.

Their birthday gift from the company will be a reusable tumbler, which they can fill up with “water from the air.”

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From Sports to Work, Rohingya Women Face New Roles in World’s Largest Refugee Camp

On a blue mat in their mud and bamboo home in the middle of the world’s largest refugee settlement, Mohammad Selim is pacing his 9-year-old daughter Nasima Akter on her taekwondo drill.

As a local taekwondo champion in his Rohingya district in Myanmar before fleeing to Bangladesh 18 months ago, Selim dreamed of making a career of his sport but now he is hoping that his daughter can instead follow that path.

He said in Myanmar it was impossible to teach her, as taekwondo was considered improper for girls and he didn’t have time, but their flight to camps near Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh has started to change his society’s rules for women.

For women and girls make up about 55 percent of the 900,000 plus mainly Muslim Rohingya living in about 34 sprawling, crowded camps in the settlement and they are needed to work or to run households as many have lost their husbands.

“I want my daughter to learn taekwondo and one day represent us as a champion,” Selim, 35, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via an interpreter watched by his wife and three other younger children in their tidy, two-room shelter.

“Our society is conservative and we prefer covering our women but in taekwondo you are covered so people can’t question a girl participating. We practice inside to not get criticized but many people regret they cannot teach their daughters.”

With most Rohingya now in Bangladesh for 18 months and life starting to become more routine in the camps, Selim is not the only one breaking away from the Rohingya’s previous lifestyle, where women rarely left the house and were segregated from men.

He is hoping to get approval to teach taekwondo to other girls in the camps where children do not have access to a formal education but can attend learning centers until about age 14.

More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled Buddhist-dominated Myanmar since August 2017 to escape a military offensive the United Nations called “ethnic cleansing” of one of the world’s most oppressed people, joining others already in Bangladesh.

The chance of returning soon to Myanmar looks remote, with Bangladesh vowing to only repatriate volunteers.

The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said in late January it was clear they cannot return “in the near future” with the situation in Myanmar unchanged.

Myanmar has denied most allegations of persecution.

Women-only areas

Aid agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) working alongside Bangladesh’s government in the camps were aware from the outset that women and girls were vulnerable to sexual and other violence, both on their journey and in the camps.

To address this, they have set up women-only projects and committees to encourage women to get involved in the community as well as counseling services for those who faced abuse.

But not all Rohingya men used to a conservative Islamic lifestyle are happy to see women taking on new roles and making decisions, adding to the risk of domestic violence which aid groups said is on the rise in the camps as time goes by.

“Some men say it is a sin for women to work because in Myanmar we never worked,” said Nuran Kis, 40, a Rohingya mother of eight, who is teaching others to sew in a women-only center.

“My husband supports me though because we need money and want to survive,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, sitting cross-legged in her two-room home on a hill overlooking Balukhali camp, a maze of dirt roads and makeshift shelters.

Shameema Akhter, who co-ordinates eight women-friendly spaces in Balukhali camp for BRAC, Bangladesh’s largest NGO, said some men were initially reluctant to allow women and girls to come to these centers but gradually that was changing.

She said they ran craft sessions for the women and girls, taught them to sew, talked to them about the risk of rape, human trafficking, and child marriage, how to manage hygiene, and provided one-on-one counseling for anyone abused.

Akhter said when they arrived many girls were given sanitary pads, but had no idea how to use them and cut them up as face tissues while handouts of cereal, a food item not known to the Rohingya, were sold at markets for a fraction of the real value.

Most of the Rohingya are illiterate, having had limited access to education — and healthcare — in Myanmar’s Rakhine state where they were refused citizenship and free movement.

“Many of the girls were depressed and traumatized about being raped or being forced by their families to get married and very shy,” Akhter told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the group’s center decorated with brightly colored paper cutouts.

“But now they want to come here and learn skills that might help them and their families in the future.”

Limited work

Under Bangladesh government rules, Rohingya cannot take formal employment, but they can join cash-for-work schemes run by NGOs in the camps to earn about 400 Bangladeshi taka (US$5) a day — and some women have taken roles previously only for men.

Dola Banu, 35, is one of the women building roads and other infrastructure under a Site Maintenance Engineering Project (SMEP) run by United Nations agencies International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR.

“This is the first time I have ever done any kind of work like this,” Banu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via an interpreter during a break from carrying bricks for a new road.

“I like this work and want to keep doing it as long as I can to support my family,” said Banu, who is raising her four children as a single mother after her husband died.

Aid workers said these new roles were giving women more confidence and more were willing to take leadership roles in the community so they could raise issues such as the need for more lighting by latrines, where women fear being attacked at night.

“This is a group going through forced societal change and women are finding new forms of confidence,” said Gemma Snowdon, a WFP spokeswoman based in the beachside town of Cox’s Bazar about 40 km (25 miles) from the nearest of the camps.

She said a key barrier for female-led households was childcare so they planned to launch mobile child care and boost self-reliance by teaching women skills such as growing vegetables, sewing, and even repairing mobile phones.

Some help has come from outside the settlement as well.

Launched late last year, the Testimony Tailors website https://testimonytailors.com lets users fund and pick garments to be made by about 40 female Rohingya, with finished items donated to refugees in the camps.

Jamila Hanan, a British-based manager at #Hands4Rohingya, which supports the project, said all the women and girls involved in the project were aged between 15 and 40 and survivors of rape or massacres.

Many had witnessed family members being killed “This cooperative is them helping themselves… It has been incredible to see them supporting each other,” said Hanan.

While some Rohingya are struggling to accept women’s new roles and projects such as encouraging girls to play football, for others like Nasima Akter, the changes are part of adjusting to life in the camps for the foreseeable future.