Once his only option, running is now Somali refugee’s passion
Inspired by Olympic champion Mo Farah, Guled joined a running club in his adopted Cairo and began chasing his dreams.
Guled participates in the Cairo Runners Club run in Heliopolis. He has been an active member of the club for several years. © UNHCR / David Degner
For the past six years, Guled’s long-striding legs have carried him to every corner of his adopted homeland Egypt, running in marathons and other endurance races across the country as his prized collection of medals tucked into an inside pocket of his kit bag has grown ever larger.
“Whenever I am running I feel free, living in a free world of my own,” he said as he explained his passion for the sport. “And this is why running is so important to me; it [helps me] overcome the difficulty or stress that I am having as a refugee.”
This is not the first time Guled has had to run. In 2007, he fled his home country, Somalia, in fear for his life after militia groups killed his father and continued to spread terror on the streets as part of the country’s decades-long civil conflict.
“To settle in a new country is not something which is easy.”
He left Somalia alone with the help of his late father’s friend, who arranged for smugglers to take him across the border and onwards to Egypt. When he first arrived in Cairo, he sought refuge in the close-knit Somali community in the capital’s Nasr City district. He spent his time teaching English to Somali children at their homes.
“To settle in a new country is not something which is easy,” he said, reflecting on his early years in Egypt. “At the beginning, it was very difficult; challenges with the language, challenges with the people, who you can trust, who you can call a friend… so it was challenging, yes.”
Egypt is currently host to more than 244,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers, with Somalis representing the seventh-largest population group. Last year, Somalia ranked fifth on the global list of refugees by country, after Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.
In 2012, when the world’s gaze turned to the London Summer Olympics, Guled’s attention was fixed on one athlete in particular – British distance runner Mo Farah, who as a child had himself fled Somaliland.
Watching as Farah became a double Olympic champion, Guled was inspired to join a local running group in Cairo, a move that would transform his life in ways he could not have anticipated.
“Running took me out of my home, my neighbourhood, for the first time, because before, I never even knew the neighbourhoods in Cairo itself,” he recalled.
Today, he has a proud record of participating in marathons, decathlons and obstacle races in places as far away as Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh, Gouna, Aswan, Ismailia and Fayoum. He has also made many friends within the running community in Egypt.
But running is the not the only area where Guled has achieved success. In 2013, he became a refugee interpreter for UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – in Egypt, providing interpretation services in English and Somali. His diligence later saw him become the interpreters’ coordinator, overseeing two dozen other interpreters.
“I miss the care and love of my parents.”
He has successfully completed the Cairo Community Interpreter Project (CCIP) training, which is designed for interpreters working in the refugee and migrant field settings. It is administered by the Centre for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) at the American University in Cairo.
UNHCR Egypt offers its refugee interpreters the CCIP training on an annual basis to develop their interpretation skills. Interpreters who successfully pass the training are awarded a certificate jointly signed by CMRS and UNHCR.
Despite his many achievements, Somalia is always on Guled’s mind. He speaks of family members that he yearns to meet and places he misses. For him, this is the hardest part about being a refugee.
“I miss the care and love of my parents,” he said. “It’s emotional and it hurts. Not being able to meet your family and not knowing when you will see them again.”