The Beauty of Dadaab


by Niki Clark, CARE Emergency Media Officer in Kenya

September 2011

One of my "duties" as an emergency media officer here in the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, is to share my perspective of CARE's work and beneficiaries through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. And being the dutiful employee I am, I often Twitter-follow recent Dadaab visitors so that I can in turn share their perspectives of the camps.

One such recent visitor was Somalian-born, Canadian-raised singer K'naan. Although K'naan found worldwide fame only recently through his 2010 FIFA World Cup theme-song Wavin' Flag, he has been amassing fans for more than 10 years, when a spoken word performance before the United Nations High Commission on Refugees caught the ear of famed Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (another recent Dadaab visitor). After K'naan visited Dadaab with a World Food Programme-CARE joint delegation, which included friends of CARE Cindy McCain and retired NBA superstar Dikembe Mutombo, @Knaan became my latest Twitter-follow.

For the past week or so, I have been struggling with the two very different Dadaabs I have experienced. Then, yesterday, I read a tweet that perfectly captured what I have been trying to express:

"Somalia is overflowing with beauty." @knaan reflects on his Somalia, not necessarily the one you see on the nightly news.

In midst of the strife and turmoil, hidden between the heartache and uncertainty, and tucked away behind the dire poverty and desperation of a homeless people, the people of Somalia – the refugees of Dadaabb – are an overflowing vessel of beauty. Because the unexpected truth is: there is beauty everywhere, even in the world's largest refugee camp, where I see:

The luminous glow of a fading sun, moments before dusk, as we head back to the compound to meet our curfew.

The joy of a widow's eyes and the firm grip of her hand as I tell her about CARE's livelihoods program; that she too could learn how to operate a business of her own, to educate and feed her four young children.

The gentle touch of a small child, no older than 3, when she reaches out to shake my hand in greeting and decides, instead, to kiss my hand.

The pride and confidence of a recent graduate of CARE's Community Tailoring School as she displays the bags she made with her own two hands, which she sells in the Hagadera market, allowing her some independence in a culture of dependency.

The lines of an elderly man's face, and the stories the lines tell of loss beyond description, and of a determination that guides him forward day byday in spite of it.

The toothless grin on a 5-day-old baby girl, born on the journey from Somalia, her 10 perfect fingers, 10 perfect toes.

When I was an art student in college, I did a photography project on raw beauty – the beauty of accomplishment, the beauty of the everyday, of the unintentional. I have seen incredible poverty in Dadaab, things that people should never see, things that should never exist. Back in my Washington, D.C., office, I have CARE's vision tacked to my cubicle walls:

We seek a world of hope, tolerance and social justice, where poverty has been overcome and people live in dignity and security. CARE International will be a global force and a partner of choice within a worldwide movement dedicated to ending poverty. We will be known everywhere for our unshakable commitment to the dignity of people.

It's a constant reminder for me of the essence of CARE's purpose: Defending Dignity. Fighting Poverty. Because dignity is beautiful. People who are able to control their own destinies and raise themselves above the situations into which they are born: this is true beauty. And it's all over Dadaab.

As a native of Somalia, K'naan is able to see something that most people in the world will never see: the beauty of Somalia and its people. Dadaab may never make Travel & Leisure's "Top 10 Most Beautiful Places' but the people of Somalia – who are the refugees of Dadaab – are some of the most beautiful people in the world.

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