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Fast forward: a newsletter to lighten up life in Dadaab

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

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Every week, six pages’ worth of news articles and short works of fiction are published in Somali and shared with residents of camp Dadaab in eastern Kenya. Named for the 500,000 people who live here, the newsletter ‘Refugee’ is the fruit of Abdirashid Abdullahi Mohamed, himself a resident for the last 20 years.

Abdir, as he’s known here, fled his home in Somalia at age seven. That was in 1991 after his parents and two siblings were killed in the country’s widespread violence. Neighbours helped him and two sisters reach Dadaab, though one has since died and the other got the chance to live in the US. His own hope to live in a more peaceful place has diminished. What hasn’t faded is Abdir’s determination to make life less miserable – and more literary – for the people around him. Over the phone, he recently told RNW about his work as editor-in-chief of ‘Refugee’.

What kind of content can be found in the newsletter?
We normally write stories that affect the refugees, for example, about health. We wrote a story about a refugee who suffered from cancer in his eye. The [United Nations] Refugee Agency finally realized his problem and he was flown to a hospital in Nairobi. The trauma was treated and he recovered… But we also write about things like nutrition, particularly during a big influx [of refugees]. Last year, a lot of people came from Somalia. There are then many cases of malnutrition that affect kids and the elderly. We collaborate with some NGOs for these stories.

Do you also write about fun topics?
Yes, of course! Entertainment is very important. We have fiction stories [inspired by] some relationships here in the camp. We write a few paragraphs per week, so that the audience is waiting to get the new newsletter for the next part of the story.

Dadaab is in the news a lot lately. How is the camp nowadays?
Life in Dadaab is very shocking. It is today like it was in 1991, when the place was filled with bandits who were looting, killing and raping. It is like a flooded prison. Every calibre of human beings lives here… Lately, businessmen [refugees with shops in the camp] are targeted, they are kidnapped. They can’t sleep at home. At gunpoint they have to open their shop and give the money they worked so hard for. A few nights ago, a lot of young girls were raped at gunpoint. It’s a terrible place. We asked the Kenyan government for more protection, but that doesn’t happen.

Do you write about these things?
No, we can’t cover a story about these things. It’s too dangerous. You need protection, and there is no one who can secure us. We allow events to take [their course]. We cannot change anything, unfortunately.

The international NGO FilmAid funds your newsletter. They also produce movies in refugee camps worldwide. Do you work on that project too?
Yes, I do. There are so many topics to cover here. I made one movie about the identity crisis here. Many refugees have an identity crisis. I was an ‘identity victim’ myself. For the movie I interviewed refugees who had good jobs in Somalia, like politicians or officials. But here in Dadaab, there are no jobs. You have nothing. That gives you a lot of problems. But I also interviewed someone like me, someone who was seven years old when he came from Somalia. He only has a vague memory of Somalia when he fled, a nice memory. And here life is so hard, there is no good food, no balanced diet, the water system is poor, sanitation is bad, hygiene is very low and security is very bad. Where does he belong? He doesn’t know.

How do people respond to your work?
Very well. People really like it. Me and the other reporters are known now by our audience. Many people come to the market in Dadaab and tell us what they think about our work. They give us opinions – that is very nice. And some stories, especially the fiction ones, are very popular. People talk a lot about these stories.

Where do you write?
That’s our biggest challenge. We don’t have a single computer. We need to go to the agency [UN Refugee Agency] and ask for a few minutes on the computer. Then I write [stories] very fast and transfer the content to my USB stick. We don’t get anything [in terms of supplies to help publish the newsletter].

What do you wish for the future of Dadaab?
The future of Dadaab, for sure, is very bad. I wish it would get better. Refugees are stuck here… The only thing I can do is making people’s lives a bit easier with the newsletters and movies.



 





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