Najmo was only 11 years old when she escaped a terrifying reality and a forced marriage in Somalia. Today she makes Social Media videos to empower girls around the world.
“Social media is powerful, I can spread my message all the way to the countryside in Somalia.” says Najmo. Photo: © UNHCR/Max-Michel Kolijn
“I wish the world was more like my parents and our family,” Najmo says. “We’re not the same colour, we’re not from the same country, we don’t even have the same religion, but we’re still family and take care of each other and love each other.”
Najmo was 11 years old when her father died. Somalia was already a very dangerous place to live at the time, and her uncle decided that Najmo should marry her cousin who was three times her age. Najmo refused, but her family forced her to move in with the much older man. One night she decided to flee and jumped on a bus to the capital.
“I was only 11 years old, but I knew that it was wrong. I was just a child. So I escaped.” Najmo was 13 years old when she left Somalia. She was alone and terrified, but she was determined to survive.
“People were saying: “Where are your parents? Why did they let you go?” And I said, “There is no, ‘my parents let me go’. I let myself go.”
Najmo is now 20 years old and lives in Reykjavik with her foster family, they also have a small country house just outside the city where the family spends their weekends. Photo: © UNHCR/Max-Michel Kolijn
Najmo at school with her good friend, Haukur. Photo: © UNHCR/Max-Michel Kolijn
Najmo travelled with strangers across the Sahara in the back of a big truck, where she saw people being crushed to death. The journey through the desert took 28 days.
“I was just watching the sand and I knew that there was nothing I could do. If the car would break down, none of us would have survived.” she recalls.
She made her way through Libya and, in a small boat, crossed over the Mediterranean Sea. After three years of travelling and constant fear, somebody offered to help her reach Canada, but authorities in Iceland detained Najmo on her stopover and brought her straight to child services.
“The first thing they asked me was what I wanted to do, and I immediately said that I want to study.” she says. “I was 16-years old already and had not been in school since I was 11. I knew that getting an education was the first step for me to start a new life and open doors for my future.”
Najmo started school and was placed in a foster family from the start. After settling in, and learning some basic Icelandic, she realised that she had an important message that she wanted to share with the world as soon as possible.
“Somali girls who are not in Somalia have more chance. They have more opportunity to be the women that they can be. I make videos to inspire young people, especially to empower women. I want to show girls that they can aspire to be more.”
Her foster parents have been supporting her dream, helping her with video equipment, and her new dad Finnbogi, who is interested in photography, helped her set up a little studio in her room with lights and reflectors that they built together. Najmo’s Facebook and Youtube channels grew, and she now has more than 60 thousand followers.
“Social media is powerful, I can spread my message all the way to the countryside in Somalia. Someone who is with camels and sheep can just open up their Facebook and watch me and get some ideas. I want to help Somali women and girls. I want to inspire them to study, to stand up for their rights.”
Najmo speaks about education, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and women’s rights. She also speaks about cultural norms, religion, politics and violence against women. And her opinions are not always popular.
“Many people are angry at me, they write nasty comments – because I don’t cover my hair, because I have a strong voice. But if everybody stays silent on these things, the bad things will go on. And it’s on us, the women. We need more women to stand up and speak up.”
Najmo is now 20 years old and continues to advocate for girls’ rights; she travels around the world with different organisations and youth groups, and people want to hear her message. Living in safety as a refugee in Iceland allows her to continue to spread her message without risking her life. She targets her messages to girls and women around the world, but also has a specific message for Somali women who live in Europe and other parts of the world.
“We have more opportunities now; we have to study, we have to work together and stand up together, so that us women one day can return to a Somalia in peace and build up the country together.”
Watch the video about Najmo below. You can change the language of the subtitles by clicking on settings in the right-hand corner.