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Somalia refugee attending St. F.X. hopes C.A.R.E. can reunite her family in Antigonish

St. F.X. nursing student Farhiyo Salah, a refugee from Somalia, has overcome incredible odds and adversity to attend a Canadian university. She hopes a local organization, C.A.R.E., can help her reunite with her two sisters still living in a refugee camp in Kenya. Richard MacKenzie
St. F.X. nursing student Farhiyo Salah, a refugee from Somalia, has overcome incredible odds and adversity to attend a Canadian university. She hopes a local organization, C.A.R.E., can help her reunite with her two sisters still living in a refugee camp in Kenya. - Richard MacKenzie

C.A.R.E. hopes to bring Farhiyo Salah’s sisters to Canada

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Imagine a world where having enough water and food doesn’t top your list of priorities because you go to bed each night in fear of being raped. 

Now imagine having escaped that world yourself but knowing that your two sisters remain, with little hope of knowing true security as long as they’re in that situation; even as they rise, and try to protect, their young children.

Farhiyo Salah doesn’t have to imagine such a difficult scenario, it’s her real-life circumstance.

Salah, 24-years-old, is attending St. F.X. and living in Antigonish after receiving a World University Service of Canada (WUSC) scholarship. She is in her second year of a nursing degree after having arrived in Antigonish, in August of 2016.

She was living with her sisters, one younger and one older, in a refugee camp in Kenya, after the family fled their home in Somalia and the civil war which erupted in the country in 1990.

“We moved from Somalia after we lost our dad; our dad was killed when I was eight months old,” Salah said, talking to the Casket Oct. 19. “We came to the refugee camp and, in 2005, we lost our mom. I was 11-years-old. Life was so hard.”

“Every night, there was rape going on around us … even sometimes in our family. They just come any night, you don’t know. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring; will you be safe? That is how I grew up, very traumatic. Life is very hard and a sad experience.”

Salah said the first time she really felt safe in her life was when she arrived in Canada.

“I felt, for the first time, OK, I can sleep there, I can stay there and no one can come and hurt me,” she said, adding the trauma remains, especially knowing her sisters and their families remain in the camp.

“I had a lot of trauma and the worst thing is, I can’t get rid of it, it was so painful for me,” she said.

“I remember one of the nights; I heard screaming. Most of the nights I’m awake late; I like reading and writing something whenever a thought comes to my mind I write, that’s how I do my life,” Salah said, noting she quickly turned off the light she was using and hid under clothes, hoping whomever was causing the screaming wouldn’t turn their attention on her.

“Screaming and screaming and screaming, and asking for help. Then I heard some gun shoot. I tried not to scream myself but, sometimes, you can’t control your emotions. But I know, if I scream they can kill me or do anything to me.

“In the morning I realized the screaming was coming from one of my friends. A young girl who was going to school and she was raped and killed; it’s something that always hurt me.”

Farhiyo Salah will be sharing her incredible story of perseverance during a Nov. 7 Community Café session at the People’s Place Library.
Farhiyo Salah will be sharing her incredible story of perseverance during a Nov. 7 Community Café session at the People’s Place Library.

Escape through education

Salah said it was around the time her mother died that she realized her only route to a better life would be through education, so she persevered and excelled in school despite the obstacles and even as those around her ridiculed her efforts.

“No one there believes girls should go to school,” she said, adding there was zero societal or community support.

“They are like; ‘OK, you are a girl; what are you doing there?’ They’ll ask you, ‘why are you in school? You should just go marry.’

“I’m 14-years-old, I don’t know what married is,” she said, reflecting back. “I had a lot of challenges to go to school, from every side – economical, society, but I believed education was the only security I had. And that is why I kept going to school every morning; because when I was in the classroom, I felt more safe.”

To illustrate the economic challenge when it came to her education, Salah notes she only had one book for notes, so she made sure to use a pencil and not a pen, so she could erase notes and re-use the pages over and over.

“When the book was filled, I would memorize all the notes and then scrap them, erase them, and start over. That’s how my education was; it was so hard. Life was very hard.”

But even with all of the challenges, including teaching herself English by reading novels borrowed from her teachers, Salah rose to the top of her class and put herself inline for a scholarship.

“For me, I believed I could do it and have the opportunity to leave,” she said. “There are a lot of things which happened to me in my life, but I feel they happened for a reason and they make me stronger.”

Education opened the door for Farhiyo Salah to leave a refugee camp in Kenya to attend St. F.X.
Education opened the door for Farhiyo Salah to leave a refugee camp in Kenya to attend St. F.X.

Reunite family

Salah’s younger sister also graduated from high school but didn’t receive the opportunities provided by a scholarship. Now 22, she is divorced with a six-month-old son.

“That came up not according to her wish … it’s something that happened to her,” Salah said of her younger sister’s pregnancy. “Because of the rape, the power of the men there.”

Her older sister, 29, has four children. Her first husband, father of two of her children, died, while her second marriage, with the father of her other children, ended in divorce.

“Their life is so hard,” she said.

Salah, who has permanent resident status in Canada, reached out to local organization St. Ninian Parish Canadians Accepting Refugees Everywhere (C.A.R.E.) in the hopes they could help bring her sisters and their children to join her in Canada.

C.A.R.E. has taken on the sponsorship role.

“The paperwork is being filed and sent through,” C.A.R.E. chair Donna MacGillivray said.

Joined by communication chair Marg MacIsaac, the two ladies said it’s a very unpredictable process as far as time goes and their focus now is on raising the money needed for the application, which has to include the full funding required.

“Pay for plane fare, help them settle, all the things which could come up,” MacIsaac said. “So while we’re in this waiting period, our focus is on fundraising.”

The C.A.R.E. representatives noted a generous contribution from the Tri-Heart Society of St. Andrews and that they’ve worked in partnership with the group and others in the area, such as Syrian-Antigonish Families Embrace (SAFE) in the past.

“We know the support in the community is there and when they hear Farhiyo’s story, of how hard she has worked; that to me is most compelling, the fact that she had the determination, the grit,” MacIsaac said.

“And her concern about sisters; knowing they’re so helpless, have no protection. Every day of her life she is haunted; and the more secure she feels, the more haunted she feels for her sisters.”

An opportunity to hear Salah’s story firsthand will come Nov. 7 during a Community Café session at the People’s Place Library. She and C.A.R.E. representatives will host a talk in the community room from 2 to 3 p.m.

Fundraising efforts include a yard sale being put on by the Knights of Columbus, Nov. 3, at the John Paul Centre. Folks with items to contribute to the sale are asked to drop them off the day before, at the centre.

There is also a GoFundMe page set-up. Visit gofundme.com/reunite-farhiyo-with-her-sisters.

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