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CARE Is Helping Me Heal Despite My Horrific Nightmares

20110922.5559904

Niki Clark, Dadaab Emergency Media Officer
August, 2011

CARE's goal is to provide sufficient quantities of water to the existing and new refugee populations. This includes the maintenance of 20 existing boreholes and over 170 km of pipes.

Fardosa Muse is a much fiercer woman than her small stature implies. As a CARE sexual and gender-based violence officer in the world's largest refugee camp, she has to be. She spends her day listening to other people's nightmares.

Born in Dadaab, Fardosa, 26, grew up in a polygamous family; her father married multiple wives, and had 40 children. A fluent English speaker, Fardosa studied social science in college. Upon returning to her hometown, she came to work for CARE, where she has spent the past two and a half years in the Dadaab refugee camps.

She is passionate about her work and the people she serves. "Can you imagine being gang-raped in the middle of nowhere?" she says, a steady gaze in her eyes. "This is what women and children are experiencing on their journey from Somalia. Violence against women is a profound health problem for women across the globe."

Today she visits Sultana,* a 53-year-old grandmother, who Fardoza met when she first arrived at the camps. She wants to see how Sultana is settling in.
Sultana greets Fardosa upon her arrival and, after a few minutes, she asks the six children in her care (five grandchildren and one other child relative) to go and play. She wants to speak to Fardoza alone. She doesn't want them to have to relive her story.

Sultana gestures to her tent for Fardosa to come in. With Fardosa's help, Sultana was fast-tracked through registration so as to get a more permanent shelter than the initial reception process provides. There is a thin mattress on the floor, also given to her by CARE as part of her intake process. Other than a piece of tattered fabric covering her bed, and a thin cover of red dust, the rest of the tent is bare.

Sultana was living in Dadaab when she heard that the husband of her mentally-challenged daughter had been violently killed in Mogadishu. Knowing the struggle her daughter would have raising the children alone, she traveled to Somalia. Once there, she turned back, determined to take the six children to a safer, more stable environment. Midway through her journey, Sultana was raped by seven armed men. When sharing her story with Fardosa, Sultana's eyes squint in pain as her hands gesture how she was gagged and bound. She says that she continued her journey back to Dadaab once the men were done. She had to keep going.

Rape affects survivors in many ways. Because of the severe social stigma here associated with rape, many cases go unreported. Women who are violated are often shunned by their neighbors and families, divorced by their husbands. For unwed women and girls, rape can mean a solitary life with no chance for marriage. There is the risk of HIV infection, too. In Somali communities, Fardosa says, there is no sense of confidentiality. With thin tent walls separating neighbors, it seems the case is the same in Dadaab. So Sultana tells her story in soft whispers. Having others know what happened to her "would be a whole set of other problems."

"It's a challenge just operating in this environment," Fardosa says. "A lot of the shame survivors feel comes from the community. Here, women are ’˜the lesser sex.' Only women that are circumcised are considered marriage worthy. Marital rape is a big concern. The work that CARE is doing in Dadaab focuses on providing psychological and social support and rights education, as well as outreach to men and boys so we can start changing what is considered the social norm."

CARE is supporting newly-arrived survivors through counseling and referrals to emergency medical facilities at the reception centers and by providing psychological counseling services in the camps. Weekly sessions are conducted at settlement sites, including education on services available within the camps. To date, CARE reached approximately 8,200 new arrivals with information on violence prevention and where and how to get help. CARE also provides information through "road shows" put on by Community Participatory Education Theatre groups. Unfortunately, reported cases of gender-based violence in the camps have significantly increased since the onset of the crisis, although most violations still remain unreported.

Fardosa's visit with Sultana comes to an end. "I still have horrific nightmares," Sultana tells Fardosa. "But because of counseling provided by CARE, I am healing."
Fardosa stands and brushes off the red dirt from her clothes. She steps outside and once the children see their grandmother's meeting is over, they run back from a neighbor's tent, laughing and chasing each other.

"Rape is not only a violation of the law," Fardosa says as she walks back towards the car. "It's also a violation of humanity."

She is on to her next client. There are many more waiting.

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*Identifying characteristics have been changed to ensure confidentiality.

Posted by dfava@care.org on Sep 22, 2011 12:57 PM US/Eastern

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