By Rocio Ortega, Girl Up Teen Advisor


Her parents left their native country hoping for a better future. So did my parents.

She is the first in her family to attain a higher education. So am I.

As children of immigrants, it was difficult learning English as a second language, but hard work and dedication moves us forward.

Meet 18-year-old Fautima – one of the most outspoken, funny, and social girls I met during a recent visit to the the Aw-barre refugee camp in Ethiopia. Fautima and her family left Somalia as civil war erupted and found refuge in Ethiopia. Since 2007, Aw-barre refugee camp has been home to more than 12,000 refugees.

We immediately connected because we realized we shared so much in common. Fautima told me she loves math and science and wants to be a doctor. She volunteered to help translate for younger girls who were learning English. Fautima wanted to have a leadership position, even if it was just in a small group conversation.

Fautima has been part of programs run by the United Nations Refugee Agency that are supported by Girl Up, which help girls get an education and create safe spaces for girls to gather. She told me she loves spending time with her friends in the girl-friendly spaces because she feels safe and has learned to use her voice.

Fautima talked about girls going to school and receiving the necessary resources like clothing and solar lanterns to do homework at night, after they complete their household chores. I felt like I had known Fautima for a long time. Hearing her talk and encourage younger girls to speak up reminded me a lot of the work American youth do in Girl Up clubs.

The girls I met at Aw-barre camp in Ethiopia are girls just like me. Our stories are the same, even when we live in different parts of the world. It is our challenges that bring us together and push us forward.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Girl Up and to support its work, which helps some of the world’s most marginalized girls, visit and follow @GirlUp on Twitter.