The town of Dadaab in the North Eastern Province of Kenya lies 100 kilometres from the border with Somalia. Its biggest feature is three refugee camps run by CARE which are home to over 160,000 refugees, most of whom have fled the civil war in Somalia which began in 1991.
Life in Dadaab is tough. Many people have been living there for over a decade. There are no job opportunities, resources are stretched thin, and thousands more refugees continue to flood the camp. For many young people in Dadaab, their only hope at a future and to provide for their families is to obtain one of a few scholarships to a Canadian university.
In Citizens of Nowhere: From Refugee Camp to Canadian Campus Debi Goodwin follows eleven refugees from Dadaab throughout their first year in Canada. She begins by exploring their lives in Kenya and getting to know their hopes and dreams for the future as well as their impressions of Canada. She then meets them at the airport as they arrive in Canada and follow them as they navigate Western culture, adapt to university life and wintry weather, and try to get through their separation from their families and homes.
This is an incredible book. I didn't want to put it down as I became attached to the eleven men and women who took incredibly brave steps to provide for their families. These are people who have experienced the horrors of civil war, fleeing their homeland and being forced into the restrictive conditions of refugee camps. Then they left everything they ever knew behind them and moved to a country that could not be any more different from what they have experienced. They possess a level of bravery and commitment that is awe-inspiring.
In addition to getting to know these amazing people, it was really neat to see my own country and city through the eyes of a newcomer. Even though I live in a neighbourhood that is comprised mostly of immigrants, am married to an immigrant and am the child of an immigrant, I think I underestimated the experience that people go through when they arrive here. In reading this book, I felt like I was placed right in their shoes and was able to see things through their eyes.
There is so much to this book. It gives the reader an understanding of the conflict that has taken over Somalia, the life that refugees in Africa face, and the attitudes of Canadians toward newcomers and toward Muslims. It helps you understand the plight that young immigrants face as they struggle to adjust to life in their new country while supporting their families back home.
I highly recommend Citizens of Nowhere. The subject matter is deep and serious, but the attitudes and insights of the students as well as their spirits will not only make it an easy read but inspire you.