My name is Halima. Three years ago I was forced to flee from my home in Somalia. I could no longer cope with the bombings and destruction that were being caused by Al-Shabaab. Everyone around me was dying. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. We knew it wouldn’t be long until something happened to us too if we stayed.
I found safety in Uganda, who gave me asylum and settled me in Nakivale refugee settlement where more than 100,000 refugees like me reside along with the local Ugandan community. There are children, young adults, old people – everyone is here. We come from many places, so we are different, but we all share the same needs.
We have families and people we love, and more than anything else we want to keep safe. The Government of Uganda and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) make sure we have food, shelter, and clean water. I am so thankful for all the help my family and I receive. I am happy every day because this help has saved my life.
But we also want the chance to live regular lives, to cook and have meals with our families, to go to work, and for our kids to receive a good education. But one big problem we have is that there is not enough electricity or fuel.
Imagine having to live without lights or electricity.
It’s very difficult. It’s so dark at night, it is like living without eyes. Many people live in fear of the night time.
Without electricity, we have to collect wood from very far away so we can make a fire to cook with. But without light, it is very dangerous, and women are afraid to leave their homes after dark. When girls and women go far from the camp to get firewood for cooking, it can take many hours, and they face the possibility that they may be attacked. The police provide security, but they’re not able to be everywhere at once. Young women will sometimes sell their bodies for firewood because they cannot leave their babies to go find it themselves, and they fear what might happen if they bring their babies with them. Others swap their food rations for firewood so that they can cook – bags of food are not of much without a way to safely cook it.
I dream of one day going home. I want to become a politician in Somalia so that we can rebuild our country. I hope to become a Minister for Women so that I can help support women and fight for equality. But until that day comes I want to build a good life in Uganda.
Uganda looks after refugees and gives us land and freedoms, but without financial support we can’t make the most of these opportunities given to us. The solutions exist for us. Some people are using solar energy, others environmentally-friendly briquettes. But they’re expensive, and we cannot get them without support.
As a woman and as a refugee, I believe that you should get light and cooking fuel. If we get light and fuel for cooking, we can work more, study more and enjoy our time together more. And if we can do all that, I believe we will be able to do anything.
By Halima Mohamed, a Somali refugee living in Nakivale Settlement in Uganda, where she serves as a Refugee Ambassador for UNHCR
[Photo credit: UNHCR; The photo of the woman speaking is the author, Halima Mohamed]