I am asked to step aside by our translator. He tells me a woman is here asking for help. I go over to her and she begins to tell her story.
I was raped in Moqadishu. My child [on her back] has no father. When I leave my home, the other refugees insult me, harass me, threaten me. I’ve gone out to collect wood for cooking, but they steal it from me. They’ve hit me. I don’t go out any more. Please help me in any way you can.
She is a refugee living in one of 3, soon-to-be 4, Somali refugee camps in eastern Ethiopia. She has been shunned by her community, a collective and public shaming directed at her, the victim.
What do you say to a woman who’s eyes tell more than her words? How do you assure her that you will do what you can? Does she believe what you say?
What is everything that I can do? Tell the authoritites for protection inside the camp. Assure her we will deliver ethanol to her home. Guarantee that she never runs out of fuel. Check up to see if her situation has been documented.
Pray for her safety. Pray that she heals. Pray for the child wrapped on her back. Pray she finds courage and strength to continue her day. To want to wake up the next day.
Still, it is not enough. I want to take her with me. And her child. I want them to feel safe and loved in my home.
But I can’t.
I want to go to every household in the camp, all 2000 and tell them that she did nothing wrong, that she is their sister, and that Allah would not approve of how they are treating her. That Islam is not hateful. That culture is not an excuse.
I want to find the rapist and bring him to justice.
But I can’t.
All I can do is look into her eyes after she finally lifts her head and turns to me and say to her, with a slight smile on my face, “You will not have to leave your house to look for fuel or to get ethanol for your stove on distribution days. Someone will bring it to your house and you will never run out. This I can guarantee for you.”
It brings a smile to her face, maybe a bit of solace in her day, a little feeling of safety knowing she can cook for herself and her child in the slight peace of their own hut.