This piece by Mustapha Dumbuya is part of a reporting partnership between ONE and Refugees Deeply.
Like other young people born and raised inside Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya—the world’s largest refugee camp—23-year-old Brownkey Abdullahi identifies as “Dadaabian.” Although she was born to a Somali mother on Kenyan soil, she says she is “neither Kenyan nor Somali… neither here nor there.”
But unlike most other young people living inside the camp, Brownkey is a rising internet star—she’s the first female refugee blogger living in Dadaab. Brownkey first started blogging in 2013, in order to counter what she felt were negative beliefs about the Somali refugee community in Dadaab. She now spends much of her time blogging about the rights of girls and women, advocating against early marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and domestic violence. We caught up with her to learn more:
What’s it like to be a blogger in Dadaab?
It’s so liberating for me, being able to share my stories from here. I love doing it. However, it’s also very challenging to blog from the camp because there is no free internet network. It is very difficult to do this work but I will never stop doing this. If you check my blog, you’ll see I have not updated it for a little while. This does not mean there are not issues to write about, but it is just not easy to always get online.
Tell us about your work in Dadaab refugee camp.
This is the place I was born and raised. I know much about Dadaab. It’s my home. I am Dadaabian. I don’t know my nationality per se. I am not a Kenyan nor a Somalian. I know I am Somalian by birth, but technically I can’t say I am, because I was born in Kenya and I can’t go to Somalia due to the situation. I am neither here nor there.
Here in the camp, I am an activist and blogger. I became an activist to counter negative cultural beliefs. These social and cultural problems in my community gave me sleepless nights as a girl. I thought I should do something. Our young girls here are being seriously affected by some of our cultural beliefs. There is still a cultural belief among some Somalis that school is not for girls; many people refuse to send girls to school in order to marry them off at an early age. These girls are not mature enough, so there are a lot of complications. These and many other factors impact the girls, which is why I thought I should not stay silent but instead speak up, to say no to these abuses.
The rate of early marriage is very high. You will see a single mother and if you ask her age, she will often be under 18. What future do these girls have? This is really a painful thing. I’m also interested in [the issue of] female genital mutilation. Although FGM is a big issue globally, in Dadaab it seems normal. Many of our young girls go through FGM at an early age. I shed tears when I see a young lady under the age of eight undergoing FGM. Even when they go to school, they can’t perform well because of the psychological and health complications. If they keep missing classes, they lag behind her classmates. Sometimes, when I see these girls and ask why they are not wearing school uniforms, they tell me that the doctor has advised them to get married so that the pain will stop.
These are some of the reasons why I started doing advocacy work—targeting the girls, their families, and the community as whole, so we can change some of these negative attitudes.
Is the Dadaab community supportive of your blogging and advocacy work?
Yes, of course, my family is very supportive and some members of the community are as well. But there are people in some Dadaab communities who don’t like what I am doing. They accuse me of bringing western ideologies to them. They tell me, “Brownkey, you know these things are our cultural beliefs.”
I get that. It’s not easy to do something new. It is very hard to convince them about what I am doing, but one or two people will not stop me from doing my work. People are adapting and starting to be convinced. You can’t convince a whole community within a day, a month, or a year. It takes time and patience.
My friends have been amazing, though. They always tell me that what I am doing is important and they encourage me to go on. In fact, I didn’t know anything about blogging or even how to use a computer, but a friend of mine taught me. He’s no longer around—he got resettled in Canada. Now I can do everything on my own, but he helped me a lot.
Tell us more about the audience for your blog.
My target audience has mainly been young people like me. Most of the issues that affect young people in Dadaab are not captured in the mainstream media. A lot of these young people here are on social media and also don’t follow the mainstream media. They say they don’t listen to much radio or read the newspaper, but they read my blog.