By JAPHETH MUTINDA
As the world marked World Refugee Day on Saturday, the story of a 29-year-old man who grew up in Dadaab stood out as one of the most inspiring stories of scaling the heights from the ruts of hopelessness.
Suud Olat was only six-months-old when his family moved to Dadaab Refugee Camp due to civil war in Somalia in 1991.
For 20 years, he lived in filthy conditions at the camp, surviving on food rations from the United Nations until 2012 when he got the chance to travel to the United States.
Today, Mr Olat is on the verge of becoming a Ward 6 Council Member in the Minneapolis City Council in Minnesota.
“This is yet another year we are marking the World Refugee Day, but is there anything to celebrate? No,” Mr Olat said in an interview.
“From the travel bans issued on refugees by some governments like the US, to the stigma associated with being a refugee, I think there is nothing to celebrate,” he said.
He added: “Add this to the current coronavirus pandemic and think about the hundreds of thousands of refugees locked up in camps across Africa and you will understand the sorry state of refugees. So there is nothing to celebrate.”
But as he laments about the state of refugees, he is lucky he made it to the US before the Donald Trump government shut the doors on refugees from Africa.
And on August 11, he will be vying for the Ward 6 council member election in Minnesota.
“I want to bring change to the lives of the African immigrant community in Minneapolis and Minnesota where there is a huge African presence,” he said.
“There is a huge gap in public housing, education especially of the girl child, health and economic inequality. This is what has inspired me to run for this position,” he says.
Inspired by the tribulations he went through as a refugee in Dadaab and the urge to touch lives, Mr Olat is venturing into politics to help change lives of Minnesota residents in Ward 6.
He says: “Dadaab Refugee Camp is considered one of the largest camps in the world with over 500,000 people. Despite the harsh conditions in the camp, I managed to go to school with the support of my parents. They knew that education would help us overcome all the obstacles ahead of us.”
“Going to school was not easy for me. In the scorching sun, I had to walk five to six miles barefoot.
“At night, I did my homework under the dim light of the kerosene lamp. Some nights, young girls would scream as bandits attacked the camp. In the camp, reports of gang rape were prominent. When attacked, we would crawl under the bed,” he said.
“Every sunrise counted for us. Before coming to the US, I was among a few young refugees who were trained by the Film Aid International. Without those skills, I would not have stood to represent the refugees back home.”
Upon my arrival in the United States, I chose to champion the rights of those still languishing at the refugee camps.”
I have visited different cities in the US and Canada to bring young refuges in Dadaab together.
His key rallying point in his campaign includes addressing affordable housing, community-led public safety and empowering small business and entrepreneurs, caring for senior citizens and persons living with disabilities and addressing educational, economic and social gaps in the community.
“I am here because I was lucky to get a chance to acquire education. But what of the millions of young boys and girls in refugee camps who cannot access education,” he posed.
“As a young man, I have hope that we’ll get solutions for diseases, refugees and racism. I see hope and believe together, regardless of who you are or where you come from, there is a world for all of us. And we can make the world a better place for the next generation,” he said.
In his blog, Mr Olat says: “Life in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya was characterised by uncertainty. We had no access to free movement out of the camp and into other parts of the country. Access to education was a privilege.”
“Not every child goes to school because some parents do not know the importance of education. Some children having lost their parents to the civil wars in their home countries, are living with distant relatives,” he said.
Children from minority communities may not go to school, as they may experience discrimination and violence from other children. Children with special needs don’t have access to education because of socio-economic and cultural factors,” he added.
“In the early days during my primary schooling in Dadaab, the school buildings were made of sticks and mud. Classes were congested — every class had as many as 160 pupils. Students like me had no access to adequate school supplies and trained teachers. We had no roof over our head. Despite all these challenges, we knew education was our only hope of escaping poverty.”
He says the tough environment taught him to pursue opportunities.
“My educational background, experience, and identity have empowered me to share my voice. Without my basic education, I would not be who I am today.”
“Each of us has a responsibility to use our voices to make a difference. I am trying to inspire others to invest in the world’s poorest countries.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the St Cloud State University last year, he started advocating for peace in Somalia, global health and efforts to combat poverty.
“At first, many did not take me seriously, but with time, many have joined my cause,” he said.
He has met several US and Somali leaders. Current Somali president Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo is one of those who encouraged him to pursue his education.
He believes that world leaders have the responsibility to use their power and influence to change the lives of refugees by allocating adequate resources, establishing comprehensive policies, finding lasting solutions, and championing for their rights.
“If world leaders do not take action, then they will have failed in their responsibilities. Without education for all refugee children and migrants, we could be losing an entire generation.
“If people have peace and education, international immigration will not be such a problem,” Mr Olat observes.
He is also a Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District leader for the ONE Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy and campaigning organisation founded by Bono of U2.
He is one of our best activists in the Midwest,” says ONE Regional Field Director Shawn Phetteplace for the Great Lakes Region.
Back to his ambition to be Ward 6 representative in the Minneapolis City Council, he says his top priority is to bring more jobs and economic opportunities to the ward. He said increasing access to education will help people gain meaningful employment.
“My community organisation throughout the state has given me the opportunity to listen to first-hand concerns of immigrant families, our neighbours in Ward 6 and overall the city of Minneapolis,” he said.
When asked how he plans to support small businesses in Ward 6, he said, “Women, people of colour and indigenous people own many of the businesses in Ward 6. Equitable economic development and entrepreneurship is a critical component of my campaign.”
He will work to ensure a thriving, safe, and livable neighbourhood. He says he is looking to a future where the US and Africa will work towards fighting poverty together.
Original Post Link: https://www.nation.co.ke/kenya/news/diaspora/diaspora-news/-former-refugee-suud-olat-dadaab-minnesota-minneapolis-734494