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Girl Rising has partnered with the International Rescue Committee, Citi, HP and Amplifier to create a film and campaign around the story of one courageous young woman named Nasro. In our blog posts, we talked about the refugee crisis and introduced you to Warsan Shire and Girl Rising. Robbins, discusses her first trip there. As a Somali refugee, Warsan Shire had her own very personal reasons to choose Dadaab Refugee Camp as the location of our film, but when I arrived I knew this was where Girl Rising belonged. It was surely one of the toughest places in the world to be a girl.
Dadaab, for girls, is not safe. Forced marriage is not unusual for girls as young as 13, food is scarce, water access is unreliable, and life expectancy for women, according to staff inside the Labor and Delivery ward of the hospital, is only 52 years old. We flew in to Dadaab on a United Nations charter airplane and landed on a runway just 60 miles from the Somali border; the only bit of paved road for miles. In the afternoon, when school lets out and the kids in their vivid school uniforms pour into the dusty streets, the rainbow of color is stunning. An hour later, we found ourselves in a tiny office on the UN Compound listening to a chilling security briefing that outlined all the different ways we were in serious danger, from attacks and abductions to IEDs improvised explosive devices blasts that were so commonplace our bathrooms were retrofitted with tank armor.
This was an unsettling welcome. Then came the time to meet the International Rescue Committee team tasked with hosting our visit. Whenever possible the IRC looks to the local population for expertise and in Dadaab they work with an interesting mix of Kenyans and people of Somali descent. Without them, I do not like to think about what life would be like for the girls and women in Dadaab. The truth is, where some might see only ruin, the IRC sees opportunity. What they provide for girls and women here is monumental. The boys and men can walk alone, and play sports in the open patches of desert, they have bars to watch football matches, they have freedom.
The women and girls are far more limited. The IRC has filled this vacuum with forward-thinking resources and programs. For instance, many of the girls we met spoke with confidence against female genital mutilation FGM. Rates of FGM among Somali women are among the highest worldwide, but thanks to the efforts of groups like the IRC, the incidence is dropping dramatically.
Over and over, when sitting down to meet with the girls, they spoke up about what they need: textbooks, lights, and sanitary napkins. We also heard pleas for school uniforms and a field to play sports. Water is scarce at the camp. The taps are only turned on at 7am and 1pm, and women and children are usually the ones tasked with the chore of gathering the water and bringing it home. This can be a dangerous journey, especially for girls, as they can encounter sexual harassment and dangerous wildlife, especially in the early hours of the morning.
They support me and my sisters. A policeman taught her how to march and salute. We try to meet with at least girls in group settings, and then conduct one-on-one interviews with about 30 girls before passing along five final candidates to the writer. So many of these girls were born in this barren refugee camp and have never left it, even to walk to the next refugee camp down the road. Their lives are so constrained that for many, their dreams have been bound and stunted. Most of the girls had a hard time answering the question of what they wished for, because they had no context.
Few had seen anything beyond the twig fencing and dusty ro of their camp. They had no memories, no pictures of home, no history. Then, miraculously, almost mysteriously, a girl would sit down to be interviewed and she would surprise us, fill us with hope and wonder.
One of the most charismatic girls we met there was Asmo, a beautiful year-old, adorned with intricate henna des. For Asmo and her mother, school was a vital path out of poverty. Her father, however, feared contact with boys and forbid her from attending school. Despite his disapproval, her mom helped Asmo get to school, providing excuses for why she was not at home and hiding the fact from her husband. At school one day, Asmo shared this story with representatives of the IRC.
They then met with her father to discuss how important school is. He listened closely and eventually relented. Here Asmo sings her favorite song which is about the importance of education. We, as brothers and sisters, must go to school to get an education. Later, when her parents told her she had to drop out of school to take care of her younger siblings, she turned to IRC for help and managed to remain in the classroom. Today she is a mentor and role model to younger girls, especially those who must advocate for their right to go to school. He now supports my education.
She was one of many remarkable young women in Dadaab, but very quickly I saw how she was the ideal candidate for the film. So much of her personal story was reflective of the lives of girls here but also inspiring. When she and a friend were attacked on their way to school, Nasro fought back.
For many girls around the world, the walk to school is so dangerous that parents are forced to choose safety over their daughter's education. Nasro, in her determination to be at the top of the class, arrives early and braves the walk in the dark. Nasro, however, remembers the trip. She came to Dadaab with her grandparents, who are now dead, when she was 7-years-old and already an orphan. Today, she dreams of being a doctor. Most of them need to think about that question for a while before they come up with an answer.
I only fear God and snakes. Wherever we go, when we interview girls, we always ask what they want to be when they grow up. I usually hear answers like teacher, nurse, NGO worker. Then I looked up. The only thing they see leaving here are planes. They want to get out. Top of Back to About Next blog.Seeking a brave girl
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