DADAAB, Kenya (January 17, 2013) — Hawa, 13, never attended school until she arrived at what’s described as the world's largest refugee camp, here in northeast Kenya.
As of December 16, 431,300 people were living in Dadaab refugee camp.
Hawa and her family fled their native Somalia because of fighting.
“I never had the chance to attend school in Somalia,” she says. “There wasn’t even a functional school where I lived.”
At first, she says, it was very difficult to adjust. Most of the other students had had many years of classroom experience, and they appeared more socially adept than Hawa.
“I didn’t know how to interact with other students,” she admits. “Now I have a lot of friends. I’m also learning English, math, science and the importance of hygiene. Before, I didn’t know why hygiene was so critical.”
Hawa has become one of the most vocal advocates of education in her area of the camp.
“If you never go to school and get an education, you are stuck in a dark place,” she says. “Even though I live in a refugee camp, I am able to get an education and go to school. I will be able to help out my parents financially in the future. I am encouraging my friends to attend school, especially girls, so they are not left behind, and they can become independent.”
The classroom offers Hawa a sanctuary from the rigors of life in camp. Her family shares a small stick hut covered with a plastic sheet. There is no running water, no electricity and little by way of protection against criminals.
“The most difficult part of my life is security,” she says. “There is a lot of banditry in the camp, especially where we stay. I don’t feel secure at all. I always worry if I’ll be raped or my sisters will be raped.”
Hawa does not know when, or if, she will return to Somalia. She can’t predict when order will return to her native country, and when it will be safe for her family. She is, though, certain of one thing.
“For me, the most important thing is getting an education. Without an education, there is no life.”