By Rocio Ortega

Editor’s Note: The UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign works with the United Nations to support refugee girls in Ethiopia by promoting their education, health, safety, and leadership skills. Learn more here.

Girl Up in Jijiga

The only time I had ever heard the word refugee was rocking out to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ song simply titled “Refugee.”

It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to visit and interact with refugee girls in Ethiopia that I finally understood what that word meant.

As a former Teen Advisor and current Campus Leader for the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, I recently joined Girl Up to visit two refugee camps in the outskirts of Ethiopia.

This trip exposed me to the issues Somali refugee girls who live in Ethiopian camps face on a daily basis, like needing lights such as solar lanterns to do homework at night since they don’t have electricity or how having a private bathroom and shower for girls can make a huge difference because it gives them a safe space and privacy.

I was eager to meet the girls there. I wondered how they live and what they want to be when they grow up, but more importantly, I was looking forward to meeting the girls who Girl Up’s youth supporters strongly advocate for.

So when it came time to say hello to the girls, I felt like we had already met.

I knew I would be talking to girls with different experiences than me, but at the end of the day we are all girls who desire to be the best we can be in order to help the next generation of girls succeed as well.

I remember talking about the need to empower girls and how creating all-girl spaces can help. When I told them I attend an all-girls college, they were amazed and wanted to attend an all-girls college too.

I think of these girls as my friends and sisters who I was destined to meet. Everything that they want, like more textbooks to do homework or an all-girls basketball court, are things we have the right to enjoy.

It’s been three months since I visited Ethiopia, and as I reflect back on my experiences there, I wonder what the word refugee means to the everyday citizen. World Refugee Day is needed to remind us of refugee girls who simply want to go to school and help their communities, much like you and I do.

As the world recognizes World Refugee Day, people can and should get involved with the refugee camps in Ethiopia, because what’s more powerful than a refugee girl is an empowered refugee girl who knows her voice and will use it to change the world.