Dozens of pairs of yellow, green, and blue flip-flop sandals lie neatly organized outside a refugee tent in Zone T of Melkadida refugee camp. Hundreds, thousands of similar tents dot the dusty, wind-swept landscape surrounding it. The only other distinguishing feature about this tent that might explain the collection of footwear at its entrance is a eucalyptus pole strapped to one side with International Medical Corps’ flag fluttering at its top. This is an improvised International Medical Corps’ tea-talk shelter, and today is tea-talk session day.
Inside the tent, a group of approximately thirty women – many with their toddlers and infants – and five men sit cross-legged on the tarpaulin floor and listen intently as Hakima,* a refugee volunteer working with International Medical Corps’ GBV program, explains to her peers what gender-based violence is, providing some examples to illustrate. One of the participants is Sadiya,* a 35 year-old woman from a rural, agrarian part of the Baidow region of Somalia. Sadiya left her home after severe drought saw her and her husband’s livestock perish and their crops fail. The drought also 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. However, the 30-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 children have adjusted to life in Melkadida refugee camp. Like most refugees in Melkadida, Sadiya still faces many challenges, from walking great distances to collect firewood to ensuring that her four children stay healthy in this harsh environment. But one of the benefits of living in Melkadida, as 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.” 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.