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The brutal road to Dadaab

In a shaft of sunlight streaming in the door of a mud shack, Isnino and her baby daughter look like serenity itself.

But then I start to notice things.

There’s a shell-shocked air about Isnino — her brown eyes are wide and unblinking. She talks in short, staccato bursts, as if she just wants to get it over with.

When she tries to smile, it’s lopsided and awkward, like she hasn’t done it in a while. Then she gently recounts the horror that has been her life.

One tragedy after another

Isnino grew up in south central Somalia. As she was entering her teens, her father divorced her mother. She clashed with her new step mother.

And when she was 13 years old, her father married her off to a man she couldn’t stand. Not long after, she became pregnant.

The nightmare continued when she fled the drought a few months ago.

Pregnant and out of options, she escaped from her husband and went in search of her mother. For weeks she wandered, drinking water from streams, and living off a few leaves and food scraps.

With a growing belly, no sign of her mother and the drought intensifying, Isnino knew her only hope of survival was getting to Dadaab, the massive refugee camp in Kenya.

Dying on the road

Isnino joined a group of refugees, all hoping to find a way to Dadaab. When a truck finally pulled over, the group quickly piled in. It was dangerously overcrowded.

Isnino wasn’t sure how far along she was in her pregnancy, but her belly was big.

As the driver sped through the night on the uneven road, it jolted and slammed people into Isnino’s abdomen.

“People were sitting on top of each other,” Isnino says. “They were vomiting and defecating; there was an awful smell.”

The passengers were so tightly jammed in that someone died, probably from suffocation.

Crushed by people

For two days and two nights they travelled like this. Someone was sitting on top of Isnino’s stomach, crushing her unborn child.

She realised at one point that her baby had stopped moving. She thought it might have died.

Maybe it was the pain in the rest of her body, but Isnino never felt the contractions.

The man sitting next to her shouted: “This girl is giving birth, we need to help her!” But nobody noticed.

In the back of that filthy, overcrowded truck, Isnino pulled Habibo screaming into the world. She had no water to wash her newborn.

She wrapped Habibo in the skirt she was wearing and did her best to protect her until they arrived at the camp.

Finding home in Dadaab

Sitting next to Isnino in the mud shack is Ibrahim, a wiry 48-year-old man. At first glance, he looks like a typical refugee, but Isnino sees him as a saviour — someone who cares for her in a way her own father didn’t.

Ibrahim lived in Somalia, raising cattle, but in the early 1990s his wife and three children fell ill and died.

When the fighting became too intense, and the baked earth couldn’t support his animals anymore, he left for Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Now, home is a mud shack and a kitchen made of sticks and old cardboard boxes.

Ibrahim doesn’t have much. But he’s got something extraordinarily valuable: a way with children. They climb on him like kittens, grabbing his shirt, lolling in his lap and using his sarong as a swinging hammock.

Ibrahim is one of 350 foster parents in Dadaab who work with Save the Children. Helping children is in his blood. His parents took in and raised 12 children when he was a boy.

A family at last

Now Ibrahim has opened his home to Isnino and Habibo. He’s made them as comfortable as possible, giving Isnino a few of his wife’s old dresses. They don’t really fit, but Isnino is thankful.

“It doesn’t matter if you are Christian or Muslim,” he says, “if you see someone suffering, you need to intervene.”

Isnino plays with Ibrahim’s children and has already become a member of the family. She’s even started calling Ibrahim father, and he treats her like his daughter.

Best of all, her smile is starting to work again.

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This blog was written by Lane Hartill, Communications team, Save the Children.

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