"ZOA gave me the opportunity to do something"

After her grandfather was murdered, the family of Nabiiah decided to leave Somalia. In Addis Ababa, Nabiiah dreams of a better life, where her father can get heart surgery, and her son could go to school.

 “My name is Nabiiah. I am 24 years old and born in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Ten years ago, my parents told me one morning we would leave our house the same day. We would venture out for a better life. Leaving all our belongings, with just some bread, my seven relatives and I got into a truck. We tried to hide between boxes and garbage, afraid of being caught and sent back to our house. I remember the fear I had and the darkness of the truck. We could not go to the bathroom, nor did we stop.

I was fourteen and had no idea where we were going. What I did know is that the life of my family had changed horribly a few years before. When I was about five years old, my grandfather was killed on the street. Together with my father, he did all kinds of odd jobs in Mogadishu as a mechanic. That morning of his death, my father stayed home because he wasn’t feeling well. A few hours later, my grandfather’s head was put in a bag in front of the gate. My father would be the next one, it said on a note.

I don’t know who killed my grandfather. I do know that our life in Somalia was very unsafe. I couldn’t go to school, always stayed inside, and heard a lot about murders by terrorists.”


“My grandfather’s death changed everything. My father suffered from bad blood pressure & his heart, and because of the threatening letter, we had to move. Although I was young, the memories and stories of my family members continue to haunt me, and my parents’ trauma still has a significant impact on me. I still can’t watch thrillers without lying awake.

After spending three days in the dark truck, we arrived in Ethiopia. We stayed in one of the border camps there for two years. I especially remember that it was boiling there and that I was able to learn English.

After those two years, we ended up in Addis Ababa. Everything is different here; the people, the language, and the culture. Still, I liked it; you are simply accepted as you are. Here in Addis, I could be myself for the first time. Ethiopians are good people; they never ask me about the tribe we are from, what Somalis always do.”

ZOA Ethiopia aims to support urban refugees by giving psychosocial and business trainings to teenagers and young adults. In 2019 ZOA started a project with a well known IT company to provide internships and trainings for 30 young people. This project aims to fight unemployment in Ethiopia

My grandfather's death changed everything.

“Although life in Addis is better than in Mogadishu, I still find it difficult that I am dependent on others and officially not allowed to work. Sometimes I work as a translator for other refugees, or I help my mother. I don’t do much else. I was therefore pleased when the UN advised me to follow a business training course at ZOA. I received a lot of advice on how to run a business. I was also lucky: after two months, I received a phone call that I was selected for a design school in Addis. ZOA paid for my tuition. I have now almost finished my studies; I only need to pass my exams. I thought it was beautiful to be able to do something for myself, and I would like to continue. In the meantime, I became a mother and am extra motivated to make something of my life.

My big dream is to travel to another country. Ethiopia is a great country, but I’ll never be able to get the Ethiopian nationality here. Moreover, there are no jobs for me here – I am not allowed to work as a refugee, and I have no diplomas. I struggle to find employment, and life is costly. It’s not possible to live like that, is it?

I have many plans, big dreams. I want to take my father to a country where he can get surgery. My sister has an illness on her face, which is why her face sometimes paralyzes.

Which country I would go to does not matter to me. I’d go wherever my father and sister can get well. My sister is also exhausted; she recently traveled to Libya to go to Europe from there. One day we heard from other Somalis that she was in Libya. The traffickers called us and threatened to hurt her if we didn’t pay. They asked us if we wanted her to come back home and threatened to do something about it if we didn’t pay. They wanted 30,000 Birr, more than 900 euros. We asked for support from many people to raise that kind of money. Once we had what they wanted and sent the money, my sister was sent back to Addis.

Since she returned, we didn’t talk about what happened in Libya. I am glad she is back, she couldn’t afford the trip to Europe from Libya anyhow. Who would have to pay for it? My sister still doesn’t want to be here – she complains about her appearance and sees all her friends leaving for Europe. I understand her. She feels lonely and finds it terrible to look at herself. I would also go if I had the opportunity, and someone would pay for the trip for me. This life here is a life without hope. I am waiting for a better life and hope for the best. Having dreams is free, but also gives me stress. I can’t just abandon my son either. Who will take me to Europe? What can I do? No angel will come to fetch me to bring me to a better life.

Don’t get me wrong – attending the design school was great, but it didn’t help me to forget my problems. Yet, I am grateful that ZOA allowed me to do something for myself.”