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Somalia's Champion for Displaced Girls: Dehabo Hassan Maow
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Somali refugees wait at the entrance to the registration area of the IFO refugee camp which makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement on July 24, 2011 in Dadaab, Kenya. (Oli Scarff/Getty)

Daily Beast
Saturday, May 04, 2013

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Somalia's Dehabo Hassan Maow faced grueling challenges as a disabled teen refugee—and now she's working to help other girls carve out a fighting chance.At just 14 years old, Dahabo Hassan Maow was caught in the crossfire of her native Somalia’s civil war and injured so gravely that doctors were forced to amputate her leg at the knee.

With no family (she was orphaned as a baby) or support, she fled her homeland, traveling by unpaved road to what she hoped would be the relative safety of Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in Kenya.

But even greater challenges awaited upon her arrival. “I use crutches, so if I was able to stand in line for food, I couldn’t carry it back to where I was living,” Dahabo recalls. “I couldn’t fetch water for myself.” In the event that she found someone to help her transport her share of food back to her makeshift home, she still lacked the firewood needed to cook it. “I thought it was only me,” she said, “but I saw a lot of disabled people who didn’t have any help, who were going through the same problems.”

Dahabo’s dire situation is the reality for an estimated 6.5 million refugees today, according to the Women’s Refugee Commission, which saluted Dahabo on Friday with a Voices of Courage award—an annual honor that focused this year on celebrating champions of the disabled.

“In many ways, Dahabo’s story is an exception, for she has had quite a remarkable life in spite of this disability,” says Dale Buscher, Senior Director for Programs at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Dahabo, who became self-reliant, represents what we know all refugees need: freedom of movement, the right to work, and dignity.” The other individual honored Thursday was Antim Caroline Ogwang, a 26-year-old deaf activist from South Sudan; the government of Australia was also saluted for its humanitarian work to help the disabled.

On her way to becoming a leader in her own right, Dahabo had to navigate an experience familiar to refugees not only in East Africa but around the world. Unsafe conditions in the camp prompted her to seek a better life in an urban area—in her case, as one of about 100,000 displaced people in Nairobi, Kenya’s largest city—and to appeal for help with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). After she registered, the agency advised Dahabo to relocate to another massive camp, Kakuma, in Kenya’s northwest region. “Surviving in an urban area as a refugee has always been tough,” says Buscher. “The government of Kenya has long had an encampment policy—that refugees should be in [camps like] Dadaab and Kakuma.”


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