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read the full story
I was born in Khartoum, Sudan. My family moved to Ethiopia when I was 2 years old because of the civil war in Sudan. Life in the refugee camp in Ethiopia was good because I was able to go to school, which was what my parents wanted most for me. There was also good medication for my mom who had ulcers and chest problems. However, we had to leave when I was 11 years old when my grandparents and uncles decided to give me out for marriage to replace my cousin who died three days before her marriage. My dad refused and was put in jail as the man they wanted to give me to was a politician. Later, he was bailed out of jail by his cousin. We moved to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. There, life was hard as there was no good medication for my mum and food shortages. Because my mom was sick, I had to take care of her and my siblings by working in a salon, applying fake nails, washing, drying and plaiting hair.
I believe mental illness happens when people are stressed and are going through difficulties. For example, there was this guy who was 21 who was working hard in high school, wishing for a scholarship to go to university. However, this did not happen because in his last year after doing the exams, his school was accused of corruption and all the exams were considered invalid. When he thought about having to repeat the whole school year again, he lost his mind. He would stay in his house, talking to himself, saying that the exam results would arrive soon and he would get a scholarship. When people tried to talk to him, he would not answer them back.
I remember a woman who lost both of her children at the same time. One was due to malaria and the other was caused by an accident. She lost her mind and stopped living in her house, walking on the roads collecting garbage. She kept saying that her children had gone to school and they would come back.
Many refugees experience PTSD. There was this one girl, who was raped when she was 15 years old by a man who was old enough to be her father. At night when she was sleeping, she would wake up and start screaming that the man was coming for her. She would even do this at school. This would happen once or twice week and eventually the teachers became so used to it, they would simply look at her and say she would be fine. Eventually, she was taken back to South Sudan, so I don’t know what happened to her.
In 2018, some men from Sudan who had tried to force me into marriage came to Kakuma looking for me. My uncle from my mother’s side found out so he sent me money to go stay in Nairobi for six months. They eventually gave up looking for me and went back to Sudan. Sometimes when I think about how I was forced into a marriage, I still get anxious and I wonder if the men will come back looking for me. When I am walking somewhere alone, I imagine them coming for me. I get scared and I walk faster to get to somewhere I feel safe.
I feel depressed when I think about my mom and her sickness. When I feel sad, I listen to music, watch movies or practice doing my modelling stuff. I also pray. When I pray, I feel God is with me and I know that eventually my prayers will be answered. I pray for my mom’s health and that the men will not come back to look for me.
Working at the salon at the refugee camp helped me with my mental health. I got to be with girl friends, talk, laugh and share stories. It felt good to be around other refugee women who were also going through problems. We supported each other emotionally and would help each other. For example, if one of the women at the salon had an issue, we would advise her on where to go for help, like a particular UN office.
My dream is to be able to work as a model to help my family out of the situation they are in. I also want to finish high school. I never completed my studies because of funds. I hope to finish school one day and help young Sudanese girls with their education so they don’t get forced into marriage.