A young Somalian refugee takes confident steps towards her dreams

Ilham, a 22-year Somali refugee living in Turkey, is an inspiring young woman. After overcoming many difficulties as a child, she is on her way to fulfilling her dream of having a career in radio and television.

This summer Ilham was accepted into the traineeship programme of the radio branch of the state-owned Turkish National Radio and Television (TRT). “I’ve always dreamt of being an anchorwoman since childhood – I used to have a phone with a very basic camera. I pretended as if I had a microphone and was a correspondent while my brother would film me.” This summer gave Ilham the opportunity to acquire practical skills learning about different aspects of broadcasting including planning, researching and producing live and pre-recorded radio programmes.  “All my friends were surprised to hear that I was admitted to such a prestigious programme” she says with a smile.  Her performance and excellent communication skills have helped her to secure a second traineeship next summer in the television branch of TRT.

Ilham is studying in the Radio and Television Department in Usak University with the support of a DAFI scholarship. The DAFI scholarship programme is UNHCR’s global flagship scholarship programme implemented in over 40 countries with the generous support of the German government and other donors.  For the last three years the scholarship programme has covered Ilham’s tuition fees and provided her with a monthly stipend to cover accommodation and other costs.

Tenacity and commitment have been key in helping Ilham realise her dreams, however, reaching this point has not been easy. Her family fled from Somalia when she was a child – “when I tell people what we lived through in Somalia they listen as if I’m depicting a horror movie”, she says. Even after reaching safety in Turkey, Ilham had to overcome many difficulties.

When Ilham started school in central Turkey she could not speak a word in Turkish. “The teachers were very helpful.  When my friends were playing outside during break, I was learning and practicing Turkish. For a while we used gestures and signs to communicate – it was challenging for my teachers but they were patient with me. If it wasn’t for my mother and teachers I could have given up”.  That hard work paid off as Ilham now speaks Turkish fluently and confidently.

Education has always played a key role in Ilham’s life and in helping her realise her dreams of a better life for her and her family.  Financial problems and the ill health of her father and brother led to Ilham dropping out of school for a while. “Not long after I dropped out I said to myself, ‘Ilham, you cannot do this. It is your future!’ and I went back to school”. In addition to working on her studies, she had to take on additional responsibilities to help support her family. “I have grown up knowing only difficulties, I hope the path ahead will be easier”, she remarks.

In spite of these difficulties, Ilham succeeded in passing the university entrance examinations. The fact that she wanted to study at the same time as her three younger brothers put the family under additional financial pressure.  The fact that she was awarded a DAFI scholarship helped her to stay in university.

One of the requirements of the DAFI scholarship programme is that scholarship holders also contribute to the communities in which they live.  Ilham is a member of the communications club in her university and helps organise photography tours to nearby villages in Usak.

Only one per cent of refugees globally have access to higher education compared with 34% of youth globally who complete higher education programmes.  Increased support for refugee higher education would allow more students like Ilham with big dreams and potential to have the chance to acquire qualifications that will lead to skilled employment and help them to contribute to strengthening their communities.