Meet Fatima

(Fatima receives the English-Somali dictionary from the Coordinator of the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, Shedder refugee camp, Somali region of Ethiopia. UNHCR Ethiopia/N. Prokopchuk)

Sixteen year old Fatima’s eyes spark with joy as she receives a new English-Somali dictionary from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for passing the national examination in Awbarre refugee camp, Ethiopia.

Awbarre refugee camp has been Fatima’s home for more than three years, when Fatima and her family fled Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, to escape fighting. Fatima’s ability to pass this test is a testament to her determination to get an education. Although education is free, associated costs, such as uniforms, books, and supplies, can be too much of a burden for poor refugee families. When refugee parents struggle to meet the costs of living, families have to prioritize essential needs, such as food and shelter, over education—particularly for daughters.

“My family faces economic problems and I have to help my mother. I spend most of my time cooking, taking care of my brothers and sisters, cleaning our place,” Fatima says.

Even when girls have the opportunity to go to school, they face many challenges. 

“I can study only after finishing all my duties at home but then it is already dark and there is no electricity in the camp. Sometimes I get up at 2am in the morning and light a candle to read my text books and write exercises.”

Another challenge faced by Fatima and her female classmates is early marriage. Many adolescent girls are forced into early marriage since families receive money for their daughters.

“I am not yet married and hope to be able to complete the secondary school first... My dream is to…go to the university…I want to prove that it is possible, I can do it!” says Fatima.

Girl Up and UNHCR are working to make Fatima’s dreams a reality. Together, they ensure that girls like Fatima have access to schools and quality teaching, as well as the support of their parents.

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