Abdimajid Hassan: a refugee’s story

How sports, play-based learning, and education provide brighter futures and support the integration of refugees into Ethiopia’s host communities.

By Amanda Westfall
Abdimajid Hassan, 19, was just nine years old when his family fell victim to violence in his home country of Somalia, with his mother shot and uncle killed. They fled to the closest place where they could find peace: Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado district.
UNICEFEthiopia/2019/Ayene

15 April 2019

Abdimajid Hassan, 19, was just nine years old when his family fell victim to violence in his home country of Somalia, with his mother shot and uncle killed. They fled to the closest place where they could find peace: Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado district.

In Dollo Ado, there are 219,284 Somalian refugees[1] who live among an estimated 140,000 ‘host’ Ethiopians.[2] Although Abdimajid has access to school, the opportunities for his future are limited, since refugees currently cannot work or own land in Ethiopia, and while conflict continues in Somalia, returning home is not an option. But while the host populations can work, there are limitations and challenges due to a lack of services. The region is burdened with poverty and continual droughts, which all its residents – both Ethiopian-hosts and Somalian-refugees face.

UNICEF has been working with partners to bring equal opportunities for children in all refugee-hosting regions of Ethiopia. In Dollo Ado, with the financial support from USAID, UNICEF partnered with NGO Right to Play to introduce play-based learning and integrated sports activities between refugees and host children, to create engaging learning environments and support the social cohesion among communities. In addition, UNICEF is investing in the construction of a new inclusive secondary school that will service both refugees and host communities, since opportunities for education beyond primary school is limited in the region.

Through these interventions, Abdimajid is making new friends, getting fit, becoming more engaged in learning, and has hopes to attend the newly established secondary school and continue his schooling with his new friends next year.

This photo essay tells the story of Abdimajid’s journey in Ethiopia, the struggles he and his family have faced and what opportunities education and sports has provided him and other refugee and host-community children in Dollo Ado.


[1] UNHCR Aug 2018

[2] CSA Projection for 2017/18; This includes Somali-speaking inhabitants from Ethiopia’s Somali region who live in areas that ‘host’ refugees.

Binti Muhyadin Mukhar, Albdimajid’s mother,was caught in a cross-fire in Southern Somalia.
UNICEFEthiopia/2019/Ayene
Ten years ago, Binti Muhyadin Mukhar, Albdimajid’s mother, was caught in a cross-fire in Southern Somalia. She was shot in the side of her chest but managed to survive the incident. The next day her brother was killed. That’s when the family decided to flee. “I went to the market in our village that day. I was selling things, like homemade oatcakes. Then there was fighting between two groups. I heard many gunshots. I didn’t know where it was coming from, but I tried to run. Then I was on the ground. I was in pain. I was bleeding.” As refugees, Binti found stability for her family. She was provided space to build a two-room house made of sticks and mud and was given food rations (maize, beans, oil) for her family. But the most important support she explained is education for her eight children. She explains her hopes for Abdimajid. “I want him to be a good person in a profession so he can do good for himself and for the society. I want him to have a better life than me. He wants to be a computer engineer and I want that for him.”
Abdimajid Hassan, 19, was just nine years old when his family fell victim to violence in his home country of Somalia, with his mother shot and uncle killed.
UNICEFEthiopia/2019/Ayene
At Melkadida Refugee Camp A, Abdimajid discovered the opportunities that education offers. Back in his home country he never attended school since it was too dangerous and school fees were too expensive. But once he started primary school at age 10 in Ethiopia, he continued each year, working hard to pass all grades. He is now a leader for his Grade 8 class, where his teacher lets him guide classroom activities sometimes. However, the opportunities are limited after he completes school, since refugees cannot own land or work. “The most difficult thing about being a refugee is that there is no way for us to generate any income. Some cash is handed out, but it is not enough. We want a chance to work.”
The refugee and host communities may informally engage with each other, but the interactions have been limited since services have been separated, such as schooling and health clinics, and a lack of work opportunities keeps refugees to the camps.
UNICEFEthiopia/2019/Ayene
The refugee and host communities may informally engage with each other, but the interactions have been limited since services have been separated, such as schooling and health clinics, and a lack of work opportunities keeps refugees to the camps. As Abdimajid explains, “I had no friends outside of my camp.” However, just last year, a sports tournament was organized for all children in the area. UNICEF’s implementing partner, Right to Play organized football tournaments for boys and volleyball tournaments for girls, where all schools in the area participated. First, each school established sports clubs where teachers were taught techniques for play-based learning and integration through sports. Thereafter, playing fields were arranged, sports equipment was provided (soccer and volleyball posts, nets, balls, jerseys, shoes), and games were organized where schools competed against each other. Special teams were then organized that included both refugees and Ethiopian-hosts on one team. “I made friends both from the host community and from other refugee camps from this. I am still friends with them. This was the best thing about the sports. The activity has helped change the attitudes of the communities.”
a new high quality secondary school is nearly complete and sits just walking distance from where Abdimajid lives. The construction is implemented by UNICEF with support from the Ministry of Education (MoE) and follows all standards set by the MoE.
UNICEFEthiopia/2019/Ayene
After completing Grade 8, the typical path would be to then attend a Grade 9 class attached to another primary school. However, the school does not reach secondary school standards, with no libraries nor science labs, and a low quality of teaching. This has caused a lack of motivation for youth, which is reflected in low secondary enrollment rates in Dollo Ado, which stands at a mere 3.1 per cent. However, a new high quality secondary school is nearly complete and sits just walking distance from where Abdimajid lives. The construction is implemented by UNICEF with support from the Ministry of Education (MoE) and follows all standards set by the MoE. It will come with 16 classrooms, a library, science laboratory, and sex-segregated latrines, in addition to a rain water harvesting system so the school has sufficient water for the students. This new school is ‘inclusive’ in that it will service both refugees and host communities. When the details of the school were explained to Abdimajid, his eyes lit up with excitement as he reflected on future goals that could be attained if he continued his education in the new school.
Abdimajid Hassan, 19, was just nine years old when his family fell victim to violence in his home country of Somalia, with his mother shot and uncle killed. They fled to the closest place where they could find peace: Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado district.
UNICEFEthiopia/2019/Ayene
The Vice Director at Abdimajid’s school, Mr. Abdulahi Mohammed Hassan explains why integrated sports, play-based learning, and education are necessary in their region. “When you meet during play it is easy to become friends. Everyone has their own behaviours and they learn about each other and will learn to like each other. Then when the children go to the new secondary school together, they will already know each other and learning together will be easier.” Through sports, Abdimajid is getting fit, becoming more engaged in his learning, and getting to know new friends. But through quality secondary school education, he will study with his new friends and increase his skills, so he could reach his future goals. As he puts it, “If we get high quality education we will be more motivated to change our lives. Maybe we can’t work now as refugees, but if we are highly educated then we will be able to work in the future.”