What would tradition lose if I was not cut? A cry from Dadaab
“…How did I become a child born in the land and be not a daughter of the land?
If I stay in the camp I see my dreams trade for a loss and frustrations grow in my head like forest moss…
If I take the road up north, toward the shrubs of Bura to the place my mum and dad once called home to the place before we were before we were called refugees which is wiser? stick here or to take the jump and lose all bones in one blow?”… read one of the posts on Brownkey’s blog in a post titled Is someone listening? http://brownkey.org/is-someone-listening/
Like many other young people born in the Dadaab refugee camp-world’s largest refugee camp-25 year old Brownkey Abdullahi refers to herself as “Dadaabian”. Although born to a Somali mother on Kenyan soil she says she is neither Somali nor Kenyan.
photo courtesy: UNHCR

Brownkey is the first female refugee blogger in Dadaab who writes and also campaigns against Gender Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation FGM. Here’s her story…

“Dadaab refugee camp was established in 1991 after a civil war broke out in Somalia.  When lawlessness engulfed many countries neighboring Kenya. There was a massive flow of refugees to Kenya.  As result many people fled to Kenya from those countries for safety. People fleeing and filling the camp were mainly children and women emaciated and looked desperate. Many footed for days, weeks and even months to reach Dadaab camps. They traveled long distances taking dangerous routes only to reach safe places. Some of the refugees were brutally tortured on the way and traumatized. My parents were among those who took dangerous routes to Dadaab camps. My parents told me in early 1991 Dadaab refugee was a remote and dusty place with no social amenities at all; there was no water for survival, no food, no health center and no sanitation facilities in place. In addition, there was widespread insecurity in the camps due to some combats making it to the camps with their rifles. Rape was rampant in the camp in those days. Refugees were put in the camps and movement to other parts of Kenya restricted, a policy that is still in place crippling the refugees in all aspects.”
“I was born in this era of desperation in Dagahaley camp in block E4 in early 1993 when the suffering of the refugees was at its peak. I have gone through tough life during my childhood in Dadaab camps.  At times I had to go to school with an empty stomach and come back home in the evening just take water and little porridge. But my parents have played pivotal role to make sure I go to school under whatever condition and they have been optimistic about the future.”
Tell us about your work in the camp

I do campaign against Gender Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation. I normally meet with the community leaders and do household visits in order to make sure this message is disseminated to the entire community and at the same time they understand the importance of this campaign.Since I have been doing this at the community level I become friendly with people from diverse cultural activities. However, it came to my attention that young children are at risk of child labor and early marriages too. Currently, I included this program as part of my campaign so as to create awareness and educate parents on the importance of sending their children to school.

So many people who attend my workshops are very much impressed including Aid Agencies, Religious Leaders and the community at large though I am still facing some challenges i.e. insecurity and abuse. Because some people think that I am exhibiting or carrying western ideology but in the real sense I’m helping my fellow female counterparts and the community.

In the beginning I started forming women advocacy groups against the menace of female genital mutilation.  I took my campaign to the grass root level and sat with circumcisers and mothers whose girls are victims of the peril. This is a unique method of campaigning, where the perpetrators are involved in the campaign as it makes them feel the magnitude of the destruction they are causing to women. I even organized sessions between the perpetrators and their victims. Then to expand the campaign beyond Dadaab I became a blogger to create a platform for my campaign and gather more support and bring more influential people on board. http://brownkey.org/

My hope is so high and is to become a worldwide campaigner against all the above and other related issues

What other challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?

Girls in particular have been facing discrimination from the patriarchal society where giving girls an opportunity has always been seen as a waste. Therefore I was in tough battle with men while in school and after school.  The girls have been subjected to retrogressive cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, early marriages and forced marriages. These cultural practices have contributed to the setback of women in Dadaab camps. However, these challenges never deterred me from my vision and at the back of my mind I believed in education as the only tool that would change my community. On realizing the impacts of these practices on women I felt obliged by the human spirit in me to start advocating for the right of women and get prepared to take challenges in this course to liberate women.  Before fully embarking on advocacy campaign I worked with several organizations in the camp to understand well the nature of the challenges women go through in Dadaab and Somali context.

Tell us about the audience of your blog

My target audience has mainly been young people like me. Most of the issues that affect young people in Dadaab are not captured in the mainstream media. A lot of these young people here are on social media and also don’t follow the mainstream media. They say they don’t listen to much radio or read the newspaper, but they read my blog.

Tell us more about the Brownkey Foundation

The conditions in the camp drove me to establish a foundation by the name Brownkey Foundation. The name of the foundation was instituted from my epithet.

I framed this foundation to help the powerless individuals in and outside Dadaab camps. The main areas my foundation focuses on include: Children’s rights, culture, education and the Environment.

“…who is going to lend an ear? Who is going to listen?
What is worse, to shelter in the lack and debris of my country, or to lie under the shelter of futile pursuits and no dreams at night?
 I know that if every glimmer of hope is shattered,
 I shall get back home
 But if the only way is out!
Let the out retain in us some little pride? Who is going to listen?”

What would tradition lose if I was not cut? This question, a title in one of the stories in Brownkey’s blog looks simple but rings loudly deep within. In a country where several communities practice FGM yet there’s a law outlawing the practice, political, religious and community leaders should consider seeking the answer to this question. This is the 21st century.

News Reporter
My name is Emmanuel Yegon. Trained Communicator, Passionate storyteller with a bias toward smartphone storytelling. I am the Co-Founder and Communications Director at Mobile Journalism Africa. This platform is dedicated for human interest stories and features. Ask me about #MoJo

5 thoughts on “What would tradition lose if I was not cut? A cry from Dadaab

  1. This story is very touchy and encouraging . I like the way she is bold enough in facing the challenges as a Woman / lady in a society which is hostile .

  2. Has this lady considered seeking help from outside? I know she can write to Oprah Winfrey, and if her proposal is accepted, who knows how much more impact her work with girls can have? I wish you well Brownkey.

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