Refugee sis­ters hope to re­unite

C.A.R.E. hopes to bring Farhiyo Salah’s sis­ters to Canada

The Casket - - Front Page - RICHARD MACKEN­ZIE richard­mac@the­cas­ket.ca

Imag­ine a world where hav­ing enough wa­ter and food doesn’t top your list of pri­or­i­ties be­cause you go to bed each night in fear of be­ing raped.

Now imag­ine hav­ing es­caped that world your­self but know­ing that your two sis­ters re­main, with lit­tle hope of know­ing true se­cu­rity as long as they’re in that sit­u­a­tion; even as they rise, and try to pro­tect, their young chil­dren.

Farhiyo Salah doesn’t have to imag­ine such a dif­fi­cult sce­nario, it’s her real-life cir­cum­stance.

Salah, 24-years-old, is at­tend­ing St. F.X. and liv­ing in Antigo­nish after re­ceiv­ing a World Univer­sity Ser­vice of Canada (WUSC) schol­ar­ship. She is in her sec­ond year of a nurs­ing de­gree after hav­ing ar­rived in Antigo­nish, in Au­gust of 2016.

She was liv­ing with her sis­ters, one younger and one older, in a refugee camp in Kenya, after the fam­ily fled their home in So­ma­lia and the civil war which erupted in the coun­try in 1990.

“We moved from So­ma­lia after we lost our dad; our dad was killed when I was eight months old,” Salah said, talk­ing to the Cas­ket Oct. 19. “We came to the refugee camp and, in 2005, we lost our mom. I was 11-years-old. Life was so hard.”

“Ev­ery night, there was rape go­ing on around us … even some­times in our fam­ily. They just come any night, you don’t know. You don’t know what to­mor­row will bring; will you be safe? That is how I grew up, very trau­matic. Life is very hard and a sad ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Salah said the first time she re­ally felt safe in her life was when she ar­rived in Canada.

“I felt, for the first time, OK, I can sleep there, I can stay there and no one can come and hurt me,” she said, adding the trauma re­mains, es­pe­cially know­ing her sis­ters and their fam­i­lies re­main in the camp.

“I had a lot of trauma and the worst thing is, I can’t get rid of it, it was so painful for me,” she said.

“I re­mem­ber one of the nights; I heard scream­ing. Most of the nights I’m awake late; I like read­ing and writ­ing some­thing when­ever a thought comes to my mind I write, that’s how I do my life,” Salah said, not­ing she quickly turned off the light she was us­ing and hid un­der clothes, hop­ing whomever was caus­ing the scream­ing wouldn’t turn their at­ten­tion on her.

“Scream­ing and scream­ing and scream­ing, and ask­ing for help. Then I heard some gun shoot. I tried not to scream my­self but, some­times, you can’t con­trol your emo­tions. But I know, if I scream they can kill me or do any­thing to me.

“In the morn­ing I re­al­ized the scream­ing was com­ing from one of my friends. A young girl who was go­ing to school and she was raped and killed; it’s some­thing that al­ways hurt me.”

Es­cape through ed­u­ca­tion

Salah said it was around the time her mother died that she re­al­ized her only route to a bet­ter life would be through ed­u­ca­tion,

so she per­se­vered and ex­celled in school de­spite the ob­sta­cles and even as those around her ridiculed her ef­forts.

“No one there be­lieves girls should go to school,” she said, adding there was zero so­ci­etal or com­mu­nity sup­port.

“They are like; ‘OK, you are a girl; what are you do­ing there?’ They’ll ask you, ‘why are you in school? You should just go marry.’

“I’m 14-years-old, I don’t know what mar­ried is,” she said, re­flect­ing back. “I had a lot of chal­lenges to go to school, from ev­ery side – eco­nom­i­cal, so­ci­ety, but I be­lieved ed­u­ca­tion was the only se­cu­rity I had. And that is why I kept go­ing to school ev­ery morn­ing; be­cause when I was in the class­room, I felt more safe.”

To il­lus­trate the eco­nomic chal­lenge when it came to her ed­u­ca­tion, Salah notes she only had one book for notes, so she made sure to use a pen­cil and not a pen, so she could erase notes and re-use the pages over and over.

“When the book was filled, I would mem­o­rize all the notes and then scrap them, erase them, and start over. That’s how my ed­u­ca­tion was; it was so hard. Life was very hard.”

But even with all of the chal­lenges, in­clud­ing teach­ing her­self English by read­ing nov­els bor­rowed from her teach­ers, Salah rose to the top of her class and put her­self in­line for a schol­ar­ship.

“For me, I be­lieved I could do it and have the op­por­tu­nity to leave,” she said. “There are a lot of things which hap­pened to me in my life, but I feel they hap­pened for a rea­son and they make me stronger.”

Re­unite fam­ily

Salah’s younger sis­ter also grad­u­ated from high school but didn’t re­ceive the op­por­tu­ni­ties pro­vided by a schol­ar­ship. Now 22, she is di­vorced with a six­month-old son.

“That came up not ac­cord­ing to her wish … it’s some­thing that hap­pened to her,” Salah said of her younger sis­ter’s preg­nancy. “Be­cause of the rape, the power of the men there.”

Her older sis­ter, 29, has four chil­dren. Her first hus­band, fa­ther of two of her chil­dren, died, while her sec­ond mar­riage, with the fa­ther of her other chil­dren, ended in di­vorce.

“Their life is so hard,” she said.

Salah, who has per­ma­nent res­i­dent status in Canada, reached out to lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion St. Ninian Parish Cana­di­ans Ac­cept­ing Refugees Every­where (C.A.R.E.) in the hopes they could help bring her sis­ters and their chil­dren to join her in Canada.

C.A.R.E. has taken on the spon­sor­ship role.

“The pa­per­work is be­ing filed and sent through,” C.A.R.E. chair Donna Macgillivray said.

Joined by com­mu­ni­ca­tion chair Marg Macisaac, the two ladies said it’s a very un­pre­dictable process as far as time goes and their focus now is on rais­ing the money needed for the ap­pli­ca­tion, which has to in­clude the full fund­ing re­quired.

“Pay for plane fare, help them set­tle, all the things which could come up,” Macisaac said. “So while we’re in this wait­ing pe­riod, our focus is on fundrais­ing.”

The C.A.R.E. rep­re­sen­ta­tives noted a gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tion from the Tri-heart So­ci­ety of St. An­drews and that they’ve worked in part­ner­ship with the group and oth­ers in the area, such as Syr­i­anantigo­nish Fam­i­lies Em­brace (SAFE) in the past.

“We know the sup­port in the com­mu­nity is there and when they hear Farhiyo’s story, of how hard she has worked; that to me is most com­pelling, the fact that she had the de­ter­mi­na­tion, the grit,” Macisaac said.

“And her con­cern about sis­ters; know­ing they’re so help­less, have no pro­tec­tion. Ev­ery day of her life she is haunted; and the more se­cure she feels, the more haunted she feels for her sis­ters.”

An op­por­tu­nity to hear Salah’s story first­hand will come Nov. 7 dur­ing a Com­mu­nity Café ses­sion at the Peo­ple’s Place Li­brary. She and C.A.R.E. rep­re­sen­ta­tives will host a talk in the com­mu­nity room from 2 to 3 p.m.

Fundrais­ing ef­forts in­clude a yard sale be­ing put on by the Knights of Colum­bus, Nov. 3, at the John Paul Cen­tre. Folks with items to con­trib­ute to the sale are asked to drop them off the day be­fore, at the cen­tre.

There is also a Gofundme page set-up. Visit gofundme.com/ re­unite-farhiyo-with-her-sis­ters.

Richard Macken­zie

St. F.X. nurs­ing stu­dent Farhiyo Salah, a refugee from So­ma­lia, has over­come in­cred­i­ble odds and ad­ver­sity to at­tend a Cana­dian univer­sity. She hopes a lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, C.A.R.E., can help her re­unite with her two sis­ters still liv­ing in a refugee camp in Kenya.

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