August 19th marks World Humanitarian Day – a day to recognize humanitarian aid workers around the world, many of whom work under extremely difficult conditions. CARE employs 11,300 people worldwide and the large majority, 97 percent, are local staff. This is the first installment of a three-part blog series to introduce you to a few of the people who bring humanitarian aid to people around the world.
Fatuma Adan Mohammed is a CARE Community Development Worker working with CARE’s Prevention of Sexual and Gender-based Violence program in Dagahaley camp, Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya. More than 1,600 refugees work for CARE in the Dadaab camps.
Twenty years ago, when I was three years old, my family and I were welcomed at the Dadaab Refugee Camp. We had to run away from the fighting in my home country, Somalia. The people we found here in Kenya showed us what it means to be sincere and honest with strangers. They gave us water and medicine. I got an education. So when I saw new refugees arriving from Somalia, so weak and scared, I wanted to help them, like people once helped my family.
I’m 23 now. So I am just three years older than the camp, which opened in 1991. I’ve lived my whole life here, as a refugee. I live in Dagahaley camp, in a hut with my sister, mother, and sister-in-law.
I came as a refugee, but today I am both a refugee and a humanitarian aid worker. I work with CARE’s program to help women who have been victims of sexual violence. Since I grew up here, and was educated here, I know that women are so affected by sexual violence. I wanted to do what I could to help those women.
I have been working in this job for 10 months now, and I am still sad every time I hear the experiences the women share with me. The numbers of cases of sexual violence reported have quadrupled since the beginning of the year. When the women run away from Somalia, sometimes they are attacked on the way. Some women have told me stories of being raped in front of their husbands or children. Some women were raped by many men at the same time.
These women look at me like I am so young, wondering how I can assist them. But I have managed to be confident, and also to show them that I can be of help to them.
There are now more than 400,000 refugees here, like me. The camp was built for 90,000 people. Because I am a refugee, the borders of this camp city are also the borders of my world.
As a refugee, I don’t have a Kenyan national identification card, so free movement is not as simple as getting on a bus and leaving the camps. The buses are checked going in and out of Dadaab. I left Dadaab once this year in May to accompany my nephew to Kijabe in Central Kenya for medical care. For that, I got special permission from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) , which runs the camps, and from the clinic. Other than that, I stay here, in the camp.
As part of my job, we go to the reception centres where the newly arrived people are waiting patiently for food and water. Yesterday I saw a woman lick dust off her wrist as she waited in line at the reception centre, because she was hungry and could not take it anymore. Her husband and her children were all there, I felt so bad for them. They have walked for days with no food or water.
We look for women gathered together, or standing alone with their families in the queue at the reception centre. We very carefully and discreetly ask if any of them may have been attacked on the way from Somalia to Dadaab, if any of them were raped or went through a traumatic experience as she travelled.
If a woman says yes, I help them to fast track their reception process, which nowadays takes 30 days due to the high influx of new refugees. I usher them into the gate to the front of the queue. What we do is known, and our partner organizations do not frown upon us when we take someone to the front. They understand that we are serving the women and helping them.
Then I help them get their food and water rations, emergency supplies and their wrist band so they can be registered in the camp. I take them to CARE’s office, where I describe the woman’s story to a CARE counsellor so we can follow up and arrange medical care or report the event to the police. A professional counsellor sits with the woman and helps her psychologically.
Then I return to the camps to help identify more survivors of rape or violence. There are always more. This is what I do every day.
I want to be a professional counsellor in the future, because I feel there is more I can do for the women and girls I meet, but I am not qualified. I want to be able to intervene more than I do already, and especially to support victims of abuse.
As a humanitarian worker, I will continue to do what I can to help other refugees, so they can look back and remember that they were welcomed and given help when they needed it most. That after the horrible experiences they went through to get here, kindness can come from strangers.