Dozens of pairs of yellow, green, and blue flip-flop sandals lie neatly organized outside a plastic tent in Zone T of Melkadida refugee camp in the Dolo Ado complex. Located in the resource-poor Somali Region of Ethiopia, Dolo Ado is home to nearly 150,000 Somali refugees who have fled across the border in search of food and other basic resources following the East Africa drought and famine emergency. Thousands of tents dot the dusty, wind-swept landscape throughout Dolo Ado. The only other distinguishing feature about this particular tent with the collection of footwear at its entrance is a eucalyptus pole with an International Medical Corps flag fluttering at its top.
Inside the tent, a group of some thirty women – many with toddlers and infants wriggling on their laps – and five men sit cross-legged on the tarpaulin floor for an International Medical Corps-sponsored tea-talk session. They listen intently as Hakima,* an International Medical Corps Gender-Based Violence (GBV) refugee volunteer, explains to her peers what GBV is, providing some examples to illustrate. One of the participants raises her hand and asks, “Is GBV perpetrated only by men against women?”
Hakima replies, saying that no, GBV can also be perpetrated by women, but that in the vast majority of cases, men are usually the perpetrators since they are the ones who usually hold power in a local household or community. The woman who asked the question is Sadiya,* a mother from a rural, agrarian part of the Baidow region of Somalia. Sadiya left her home after severe drought caused her family’s livestock to perish and their crops to fail. The drought also tragically claimed the lives of three of her children. Sadiya crossed the Ethiopian border last May with five of her children while her husband remained behind to look after their property. The grueling thirty-day journey on foot took its toll on her children and her youngest succumbed soon after their arrival.
Nine months later, Sadiya and her four remaining children have adjusted to life in Melkadida. Like most refugees in Dolo Ado, Sadiya still faces many challenges, from walking great distances to collect firewood to ensuring that her children stay healthy in the harsh environment. But one of the benefits of living in Melkadida, Sadiya explains, is the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas on how to improve her and her family’s life, such as the ideas shared at the International Medical Corps GBV tea-talk sessions.
“I like attending the tea-talk sessions. I can be here with my friends. I feel safe here,” she says, clutching a cup of sweet milk tea in one hand and a fistful of popcorn – a Somali favorite – in the other. “I have a young daughter and thanks to what I have learned here, I won’t make her marry early. And I won’t subject her to female genital cutting.”
In addition to running the tea-talk sessions, where the community can learn about and freely discuss issues surrounding GBV, International Medical Corps also provides treatment, case management and referrals to legal services for those affected by GBV.
Asked if her husband would object to her new views when he joins her and their children later this year, Sadiya replies, “I will educate him, and I think he will listen. If not, I will bring him to a tea-talk session.”
*Names have been changed.