Young Minn. Somali collects stories of famine victims

Abdi Phenomenal
Abdi Phenomenal, a spoken word artist now living in Eden Prairie, returned to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya in September 2011. As a child, he spent years in the camp before moving to America.
Photo courtesy of Matt Erickson/Poet Nation

The famine gripping Somalia is more than distant bad news for a young Somali man from Eden Prairie. Abdi Fatah Farrah, a 24-year-old spoken word artist, recently paid a visit to Dadaab, the refugee camp across the border in Kenya where about 400,000 Somali famine victims have sought refuge.

"Abdi Phenomenal," as he's known, went to make a video called "Voices of Dadaab" to wake up the world to the tragedy unfolding in his homeland. MPR News sent a recording kit with him so he could document what he found.

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By Abdi Fatah Farrah

Dadaab, Kenya — I left Somalia when I was 3 years old because the war broke out, and we went to Dadaab refugee camp which was in Kenya. I stayed there until I was 5 years old and that's when I fled to America.

One of the main reasons why I went back over there was to put a human face on the famine. I've been seeing a lot of statistics on the news and not enough stories about people. I felt like these people's stories need to be heard.

There are a lot of women in the camps — a lot of women and a lot of children. As I was talking to most of the women, I've seen a couple of guys standing there and I was thinking to get their voices. I started conversing with one of them.

Kissing hand of new refugee
Abdi Phenomenal returned to Kenya in September 2011 to record stories of famine victims and make a video for Poet Nation, an art and culture hub for Somali youth. Here, he kisses the hand of a new refugee in Dadaab.
Photo courtesy of Matt Erickson/Poet Nation

"The conditions that brought us here have everything to do with the state Somalia's in: the war, the famine, the drought," said Rashid Ibrahim Ali. "The wind has turned our babies deaf and it destroyed our tents, plastic huts. And we have no bathrooms. We have no food, we have no water to drink. We are in dire need of help. Your race and your religion shouldn't matter when you're missing the core necessities of life."

You'd see thousands and thousands of people just traveling, just to go get food, just because they heard from miles and miles away that there's food. And they're starving on the way there. Their kids die on the way there. Mothers grab children that are not theirs, that are holding on to them on the way to the camp.

And by the time they get to the camp, they find out that they have to wait in line to get registered first, for days and days because there's so many people. Then after they get registered, they find out that they have to wait in line for food. Their name has to be put on the list. After that, that's when they get food.

The reason why these people are starving is not only does it take a long process to get to the camps, it takes a long process to get food. By the time you get food, you realize that it's not food. It's not even a snack for us in America. You get a bottle of water. You get one biscuit. You get one date. Things like that. You can't survive off that.

The camps were made for about 70,000 people and there are more than 400,000 people living in them right now. Dadaab opened in 1991. I met people who have grown up in the camps.

Dadaab youth band
Two Somali musicians living in the Dadaab camp in Kenya sang for Poet Nation's video, used a water bottle for percussion.
Photo courtesy of Matt Erickson/Poet Nation

One of them said to me, "You went all the way to America, and you came back?" I was lucky. They could have been the lucky ones that left. Instead God chose me and I came to America to get a better life, to educate myself, to help out my people back in Somalia.

I met these two artists inside the camps where the sun was setting at the time and they were staying in this little hut with a plastic cover on it. The last song they sang for us is really, really powerful.

In one of the lines, the female says, "the scars that have cut in deep will be healed."

And the guy says, "although you're going through all these hard times, although you're suffering, although you've been hurt although you've been mentally and emotionally tortured. Don't give up. Wish upon a star in Somalia basically. There still is hope for Somalia. There is still hope for the people in the camps."

He was playing the song with a water bottle as a drum. I was blown away. I was blown away by the music that they make.

Everybody in the Somali community and everybody in the world has a role in this specific situation. My role is to create awareness, through film, through poetry and also just in everyday life.

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To see the Voices of Dadaab video, visit thepoetnation.com. The video was produced with Matt Erickson of Poet Nation. This story was produced with help from MPR reporter Sasha Aslanian.

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