Component 2 is conducting research in Dadaab refugee camp, assessing a comprehensive case management model where tasks are shared between national staff and refugee community workers to provide services for women who have experienced violence.
Here a young researcher provides us with a glimpse into what it’s really like to live and work in Dadaab refugee camp and on the realities of women and girls who have made it their home.
Not everyone fully comprehends gender-based violence (GBV) and the adversity that comes with it. It is a topic I myself had little knowledge of. GBV is a term for harmful acts against another on the basis of their sex, and includes threats or acts of physical, sexual, or mental harm. Because of the systemic inequalities between men and women, the term GBV is often used interchangeably as referring to violence against women and girls. Deciding to carry out research on women and girls who experience GBV in Dadaab refugee camp was an eye opener.
I was nervous and excited at the same time. I remember having a “manufactured” image of Dadaab. Living in Nairobi and never seeing a refugee camp made me somehow oblivious to the hardships refugees go through. Dadaab is known around the world as being the world’s largest refugee camp, but many people do not really know what life is like in Dadaab. When I got here the first thing I noticed was the weather and the landscape. It was hot and very humid, and the land was very dry and populated by small thorny shrubs. That aside, my biggest concern was security and my own safety – as the mention of Dadaab often goes hand in hand with discussions of terrorism.
Throughout the course of my research, however, I have come to understand the realities of those who have had to seek refuge in Dadaab. Refugees are vulnerable people who are easily exploited, more so for women and girls who are seen as holding less value in society and who have limited opportunities in education, employment, and accessing services. Talking to these women and hearing of their stories is agonizing. The things they have been through and still go through are unimaginable, as though I’m watching them through a movie.
That is when I realized the magnitude of the problems that women and girls face. My first encounters with them were heavy on me and at times I would feel as though my mind was “paralyzed”. I kept on asking myself how another human could carry out vicious acts on another. It was hard to swallow and understand. One needs a lot of emotional intelligence in a situation like this.
Irrespective of all their problems refugees are optimistic and do not like to be viewed as weak, hopeless people who have given up. Many of the women here are the providers for their families and strive to educate their children. They have dreams of giving their children a better life than theirs. The refugees in Dadaab had a “life” before civil war broke out in Somalia. They had businesses and houses that were theirs. They were valued and respected by their neighbors. The people I have met did not give up everything to get “free materials” as some outsiders think. Most of them would love to go back to their country and rebuild their lives, but Somalia is still unstable and traumatizing for them and they are afraid – afraid for their children this time around. The repatriation debate has awakened painful memories for some of the women and girls here. Many also worry about their sons being radicalized if they are forced to go back due to the limited options for food, stability, and protection.
The refugees I meet and work alongside in Dadaab are very friendly and welcoming; they are hospitable and invite you to their homes to share a meal. Dadaab is the only home for many refugees who have been here as long as 25 years or who were born here. Being a refugee requires a lot of resilience and working with them has made me humble and appreciate my own blessings. Life in Dadaab is far from being glittery but is a “safe haven” for more than half a million people.
Fatuma Yussuf is conducting research as part of a study co-led by the African Population and Health Research Center (Kenya) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK). This project will contribute evidence to a larger research program called What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls in Conflict and Humanitarian Crises, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development and managed by the International Rescue Committee. For further information please visit http://www.whatworks.co.za.