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Mary Ukech

I was born in South Sudan but my parents fled to Kakuma Refugee camp in the year 2000, when I was only few months old.  Life growing up as a refugee was very challenging because I did not growing up in safety.

There were constant insecurities throughout including sexual exploitation.  For example, this would happen at school.  Girls could not afford to buy themselves sanitary towels so the UN would give them to teachers to distribute.  Some teachers would take the advantage of the situation, sexually exploiting girls in exchange for sanitary towels.  Parents would fear taking their children to school because of this exploitation – I thank God because it did not happen to me.

Sudanese refugees don’t get many chances to make a little living in the camp when they finish school.  For example, one opportunity that is available when you finish high school in the camp is teaching.  However, the chances are given to Kenyans because the Kenyan government thinks we are not fully educated or qualified.  And sadly, the teachers can be abusive.  Some teachers act cruel to pupils for no reasons, calling them names, saying they are just refugees and didn’t deserve more.

In hospitals, the treatments are not really advanced.  The medical personnel just look at us as refugees and they don’t give us full attention even if we are seriously sick.

Sudanese refugee women and girls experience mental struggles like anxiety and panic attacks.  They suffer these mental issues due physical abuse, domestic violence, poverty and loneliness some are even orphans.  They also experience post-traumatic stress from the effects of war.  For example, some people have had to watch their family members being killed right in front of them

When I was young, I struggled with mental health due to stress. One of the things that stressed me was lack of food when the rations we had were finished.  It wasn’t that much to begin with and there was no way we could get money to buy our own. We would lack food and I wondered where my mother would go to search for it.

I couldn’t do anything to cope.  There are some mental health resources at the camp like counselors, but there are not enough with such a large population.

I am currently in university studying clinical child neuropsychology.  I want to work with kids and pregnant women, identifying the disorders that may affect a child’s development, educating pregnant women on how to take care of themselves and their unborn baby and avoid problems such as alcohol fetal syndrome.  Just like psychology, Clinical Child Neuropsychology studies the conditions that affect the brain and may be shown in a person’s behavior.  I’ve seen pregnant women suffer psychological problems like panic attacks because of what they experienced in their homelands and it can negatively affect the pregnancy.  They need counseling and therapy.

Mothers experience the worst stress.  I remember, there was this neighbor of mine.  She was a single mother with five kids. Food had finished in the house for days and they had been sleeping without eating. She would go to the market and pick the vegetables that had been thrown on the ground and come cook for her kids.  The stress of this became too much for her to deal with so she decided to hang herself.  Luckily, she was rescued before it happened.  Nothing much was really done to help her, just the members of the community donating their own rations of food to help her out.  The event traumatized everyone around.

When, some people lose hope at the camp and they go back home to their villages in their homelands even though there is still war.  Some girls who lose hope for the future will try to get pregnant by a Kenyan thinking they will get help.

To keep myself hopeful, I just study hard and do my work.  I also pray and read the Bible.  A passage that helps me is Psalms 23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all that I need”.

I am an aspiring model and I hope one day, modeling will help me achieve my dreams. My dream one day is to build a school for Sudanese youth who can’t afford the fees and to build an orphanage for homeless children.  

I want to find a way to support Sudanese refugee girls by providing them with sanitary towels as not having access affects their ability to go to school.  Many girls use cloth rags as pads and when they are soiled, they do not feel comfortable going to school.

I would love encourage these hopeless girls and tell them to always struggle on no matter what comes their way because one day they will achieve their dreams.