International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Saadia’s new life

During the drought and famine that ravaged the Horn of Africa in 2011, hundreds of thousands of people fled Somalia for the already overflowing Dadaab camp complex in neighboring Kenya, where the International Rescue Committee is assisting uprooted Somalis. Saadia* and her family were among the droves of people making the long and treacherous journey to Dadaab last summer. She recently shared her story with the IRC’s Ruth Kimaathi.

My husband and I decided to leave Somalia after all our goats died. 

After months without rain, the country was dry.  We could find no sign of anything to eat in the dried-up vegetation. We had heard that across the border in Kenya was a place called Dadaab where our family could get food – so we joined many other families from our village on a long trek to save ourselves from starvation.

We knew the trip would be dangerous: We had heard that women and girls were being attacked by bandits on the road to Dadaab. But we were lucky. After walking for more than 20 days we arrived in Hagadera, one of the camps in Dadaab, last July. We were hungry and exhausted – but safe.   

Some of our neighbors from the village reached the camp before we did, and they took us in. The next day we received food and other assistance at the camp’s reception center. There I was welcomed by a group of Somali women who told me about the IRC and the support they provided to women and girls who had experienced violence on the way to the camp or after they arrived.  

The Somali ladies gave me a bucket filled with things they said would help me feel a little more comfortable in the camp. It contained soap, a dira (a Somali dress), underwear, slippers, a flashlight, a whistle to protect myself at night, and other items. There was also information on how to contact the IRC if I ever needed help.

The camp was overcrowded, and so like many new arrivals our family ended up living in the outskirts without much shelter or security, clean water or latrines. 

Life was very difficult, and my husband and I started to fight a lot. He was frustrated that he could not provide for us like he used to. One day  things reached a breaking point: My husband went to hit my daughter and I tried to stop him. He then turned on me and beat me badly.  

While I was lying in pain on the ground, I remembered what the Somali ladies had told me when I arrived. With the help of a friend, I made my way to the IRC hospital in the camp and asked to speak to someone from the women’s program.  The IRC woman I met there was very supportive and helped me understand the options that I could choose to follow.

A few weeks later I joined a support group led by the IRC. The weekly counseling sessions linked me with women like myself who had experienced violence — it was good to meet others who were going through the same challenges. 

When I finished counseling, I enrolled in a weaving course at the IRC’s women’s center in the camp. My new skills as a weaver of baskets and mats provide me with a small income to help support my family — which has improved things with my husband. 

Life has not been very easy but it is better here than back home in Somalia. I have food and shelter for my children. I’ve made many friends at the women’s center.  I know where I can go if I need help. And I recently sold two baskets and earned some money to buy milk and sugar for my family.  Although my husband fought me that day outside the camp, he now realizes that I am a resource for the family. 

I’ve learned from our teachers at the women’s center that women are very important to the community. I believe it – and I want all women to know they are important too.                 

*not her real name

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