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We all deserve to live in peace

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Muhubo, a member of the IRC in San Diego's Girls Academy program, recently shared her story of coming to San Diego as a refugee with a group of over 350 students at an Amnesty International event. Her powerful speech illustrates the incredibly long, dangerous journey so many families make, overcoming loss, separation and trauma just to survive. 

Muhubo (bottom right) and her Girls Academy peers. Photo: Juin Liu/IRC

"I was 7 when I saw the dead bodies. A bomb had hit a street near my school as I was walking home. Everyone rushed over there; I didn’t know what was going on so I followed them. The air was black from dust and there was blood everywhere. There was a woman lying in front of me with her leg cut off, crying for water. For three years, I woke up in the middle of the night, SCREAMING, because of nightmares from the bombing. Because of the bombing, I also avoid crowds now.

That was 11 years ago and is just one of the tragedies I have had to witness and endure in my short life.  My name is Muhubo. I am now 18 years old and I’ll be 19 next month. I’m a Somali refugee born in Nairobi, Kenya. 

I’d like to tell you some of my story so that you have a chance to understand what it is like

Not just for me, but for the many youth and families who are forced to live in fear EVERY SINGLE DAY of their lives, some who are forced to leave their home and the country they love because of horrific conflicts and acts of terrorism. My hope is that with a clearer picture you can help advocate on our behalf—to work with us to improve the conditions in our home country and to help us fight for our civil rights. Not only do we all deserve to live in peace…free from fear…but we also deserve to be contributing members of society, no matter where we live.

My migration story starts with my mother.  

She moved to Kenya by herself when she was only 16 years old. She had to leave Somalia because of the civil war. She fled to Nairobi with her friends.

My mother doesn’t like to talk about her life in Somalia because her brother was killed right in front of her when she was just 16 years old. He was shot to death by the police for protesting against the government. He was 17. That’s why my grandparents told her to run away. NO ONE should have to experience that tragedy and yet many do still today.

When my mother fled to Nairobi, she found a job as a housekeeper in exchange for food and shelter. When she was 17 or 18 years old, she met my father, a Kenyan-born Somali, and got married. They now have 3 girls and 2 boys.

Things took a dramatic turn when I was 5. My mom, who was pregnant with my brother, left us in Kenya to come to the United States. My grandmother from Somalia had come to the US as a refugee years earlier, and after she got her citizenship, she wanted to bring her family over. My grandfather stayed in Somalia because he didn’t want to leave everything behind. My father left to find work in Dubai.

When my parents left, my siblings and I lived with my aunt. It was such a sad and difficult time--we were scared EVERY SINGLE DAY because Nairobi was such a dangerous city.

When I got older, Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group, started creating problems in the city.

Remember the terrorist attack in 2013 at Westgate mall that lasted over 48 hours? THAT was Al-Shabaab. They used grenades and AK47s to injure over 170 people, and 67 people were killed in the attack.

Because of Al-Shabaab’s presence in Nairobi, the police went door to door looking for the terrorist group and would ask residents for their legal documents. People were arrested if they did not have any documents.

Unfortunately for us, my uncle was arrested and was deported to Somalia. So, my aunt was left to raise 4 kids by herself. 

As I am sure you can imagine, growing up in Nairobi without my parents was hard for so many reasons—we were small children who weren’t able to celebrate any traditions or holidays; we didn’t go to school very much because school was expensive and we were scared of Al-Shabaab.

Instead, a teacher would come to our house and homeschool us. We felt disconnected from the outside world and did not have many friends. It was like we lost our childhood.

Before my mom left, I never felt sad.

In 2010, my mom came back to Nairobi and applied for all of us to join her in United States.

It took 4 more long years for our applications to be approved. Finally, in 2014 my siblings and I flew to San Diego by ourselves with IOM [International Organization for Migration].

By the time we got approval to join our mother in the US, I was 16. We didn’t bring anything with us; not even clothes. I was so scared on the plane. I had heard about the disappearance of the Malaysian airplane and was scared to fly. When we got off the plane, I saw my mom for the first time in 4 years and we all cried when we saw each other. I got to meet my little brother for the very first time. It was so weird seeing him in person because I had only seen him on Skype…and then to have him in front of me…

Moving to San Diego has been very good for us as a family, but the move was also challenging as you can imagine.  To start with, the food is so different.  For the first two weeks in San Diego, I didn’t eat because everything was so salty and sweet. The first time I had pizza, though, I loved it. I now eat pizza every Friday and Saturday. 

Muhubo volunteering at the Habitat For Humanity Restore with the IRC Girls Academy. Photo: Juin Liu/IRC

Also going to school, a dream come true for me and my siblings, has not been without its difficulties. 

If you remember we did not receive formal schooling in Kenya and now we had a whole new set of rules to follow and expectations to meet.  Thankfully we have all managed well so far.  I am currently a senior in high school and will be attending college next fall. My favorite subject is chemistry. I want to be a medical researcher or a doctor and study the cause of diseases and hopefully find cures.

Another challenge of course is that I miss the old Kenya, before Al-Shabaab—the wild animals roaming freely, the economy, the peaceful life. It was such a happy place; everything was normal.

I hope one day, the people of Kenya will find that peace again. I hope one day, Kenya’s children will grow up in peace and have the childhood I never had.

Thank you for listening to a piece of my story. 

I am one of many young people who have similar stories from all around the world.  I am happy today to be able to share mine in hopes that you can see clearly our plight, and that with your support, we can work together to improve the lives of our generation and future generations around the world. 


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