Nearly married to a leader of Al-Shabaab: Sahra’s story

Sahra dreamed of an education and a peaceful life from a very young age. But when her father wanted her to marry a militant fighter her dreams were shattered. Faced with no other option, she ran away to a new city. But there her life changed. Now Sahra runs her a small tailoring business with three girls she met on a skills training course. And she is free to plan her own future, away from violence and fighting.

 

“I was born in 1996, in the town of Jamaame in southern Somalia. The town sits on the banks of the Jubba river, with lush farmland all around it.

I was born into a big family. Like many others in the town, we lived on a farm. We had very little money, so we all worked hard on the farm to support our family. The landlord took 50% of whatever we produced. I always thought that was unfair, but we had no other option.

I remember working eight hours a day on the farm from when I was five years old. It was a tough job, and I remember my body aching after the long days. But I had to help my family survive. As we had such little money, my father couldn’t afford to send any of us to school. You have to pay for school in Somalia.

Where I lived, many people feared violence from militant groups, especially Al-Shabaab. There had been violence in Somalia for as long as I could remember. But my father often talked about a time when Somalia was peaceful. I hoped that one day I would see a peaceful Somalia, and not live in fear of our town being attacked.

 

 I hoped that one day I would see a peaceful Somalia, and not live in fear of our town being attacked.

 

 

AU-UN IST PHOTO / STUART PRICE.

In the mornings, I would see other girls setting off to go to school. I always felt left out and disappointed when I saw them. I dreamed that one day I would have a better future than just becoming a farmer, but every day I was back in the field. By the time I was 19, I had little hope left that I could ever have a different life.

One evening, I heard my parents shouting. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but I heard them saying my name. I started to worry. Later, when my father had gone to pray, I approached my mother to ask her what was going on. What she told me was heartbreaking.

“Your father wants you to marry to a leader of Al-Shabaab,” she said, “He will pay 5,000 dollars to marry you.”

The thought of being married to a leader of a militant group was crushing. My future was destroyed. I had hoped for a peaceful future and an education. Instead, I faced being married to a fighter. I tried to convince my father that this wasn’t what I wanted but I knew we needed the money so desperately, and my family was terrified of the consequences of refusing.

 

 The thought of being married to a leader of a militant group was crushing. My future was destroyed.

 

Desperate to stop this, I asked a friend for help. She told me there was a local organisation in Kismayo, a large nearby town, who might be able to help. With the support of my elder brother, who was against the marriage, I escaped Jamaame and went to Kismayo in search of an alternative to the forced marriage.

Running away from my home and my family was the most devastating thing I’d ever had to do. But the alternative was unimaginable.

 

 I had hoped for a peaceful future and an education. Instead, I faced being married to a fighter.

 

When I arrived in Kismayo my life changed forever. I told the organisation about my arranged marriage, and they told me they could help me build a better future. I enrolled on a course to learn how to tailor and dye fabric. After a few months of training, I graduated and was given a grant to start my own small business with three other girls I had met.

 

A Somali woman looks out from the doorway of a shop in a market area in the centre of the southern Somali port city of Kismayo. AU-UN IST PHOTO / STUART PRICE.

 

 When I arrived in Kismayo my life changed forever. I told the organisation about my arranged marriage, and they told me they could help me build a better future.

 

Today, we sell clothes to women in Kismayo and Jamaame. I’m able to send clothes to my mother for her to sell too. I make around $300 a month.

Soon, I hope I can help my other siblings to come to Kismayo and learn skills like I have. I hope one day that my whole family can move to Kismayo.

Thanks to SADO, I am free to plan my own future. I no longer face a future of violence.”

 

*Picture representative for security reasons

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