Twenty-five year old Fatuma runs her own Beauty Salon in Ifo camp, one of Dadaab’s five refugee camps in northeastern Kenya.

“I was almost born here!” She says with a bright smile on her face as she smears henna on the arm of one of her customers.

She was only a year old when she arrived in the camp with her grandmother following the civil war that erupted in Somalia in 1991, which claimed the death of her parents in the port city of Kismayo.

“I fled with my grandmother and 3 nephews. We could not afford means of transport when we reached the Kenyan border so we had to walk for days to reach Dadaab camps.” She said.

Her siblings are nowhere to be found. She doesn’t know their whereabouts. The little she knows comes from the memories and stories her grandmother shared about the tragedy that befell the family.

“I have never seen my parents and siblings. My grandma told me that when the war began, there were gunshots allover, everyone was running, I was with my grandmother that day and we escaped for our lives not knowing what happened to my family. We were told that my parents were killed and siblings escaped on their own. We have not heard from them since then,” she recalls.

“My grandmother passed away in 2011. She was sick and was getting weaker. She could not cope with the harsh environmental conditions in the camps where there is no proper medical care,” she added.

Life in the camp has been very difficult with little food to eat, poor shelter, and inadequate water. However, she struggled to go to school against all odds to pursue her dreams of a brighter future.

Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky to secure a place in High School due to limited funding for secondary education in the camps.

Despite her determination and hard work, she was unable to further her studies.

“I wish I had the opportunity to continue with my studies but my dreams are cut short,” She said in a desperate tone.

But Dadaab taught her to be resilient. She established her own business.

Fatuma applies henna to one of her customers in Ifo camp.

“I started with a small money I received from friends who were resettled in the United States. I like doing henna. It was my favorite pastime since childhood and now it is a means of livelihood for me. Now, I would like to expand my business despite the deteriorating security situations in the camp. I get more customers during weddings.

“I would also love to return to my motherland, Somalia and use my skills to earn a living and lead a decent life but I am worried because I don’t know anything about Somalia and the security situation is fragile. All I can say is Soomaaliya Hanoolaato (live long Somalia), for one day we will all go back home full of confidence Insha’Allah.”


On this World Refugee Day, we are honoring ordinary people who were forced to flee. Read more stories here:

About the author

Born in Kismayo, Moulid was forced to flee Somalia with his family at the age of 10 to the Dadaab refugee camp across the border into Kenya. After witnessing the lack of opportunities for youth in Dadaab, Moulid started the Refugee Newsletter and engaged 30 young people, partnering with FilmAid International.

He has also partnered with UNHCR and other organizations working in Dadaab to collaborate on an umbrella initiative that provided skills training and jobs to Dadaab youth. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoulidHujale.

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