I visited the world’s biggest refugee camp Dadaab in September 2011. It was the height of the Somalia famine that killed over ten thousand people and affected millions more. The food crisis was compounded by the civil war taking place in central and southern parts of Somalia.
Al-Shabaab, a ruthless Islamist terror group was committing unspeakable acts of horror in the country, forcing large swathes of the population to seek refuge in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
I was sent to Dadaab to report on the humanitarian situation in the area as well as the everyday life in the camp. I produced TV and radio reports for the Finnish national TV, photographed life in the camp and wrote a series of articles for the YLE website.
It was hard to do justice with words and images to everything I witnessed inside the camp. I interviewed a Somali woman who had walked hundreds of kilometers to reach the camp through a drought stricken arid land. She had left Somalia together with her husband and their three kids, but the family had been attacked by Al-shabaab militants.
The woman told me her husband’s limbs had been cut one by one in front of her and the kids, after which her husband had been decapitated. She along with the three kids had been set free, but the arduous journey had taken its toll. The woman reached Dadaab carrying only one child. She had been forced to abandon her other two kids and let them die in the desert.
There were countless horrible stories just like this wherever I looked in Dadaab. But there were also stories of hope. Children being fed nutritious food, boys and girls attending school and playing football. Children with dreams instead of nightmares. Stories of entrepreneurship, creativity and passion.