My name is Fatima and I'm incredibly excited to be a part of the American for UNFPA's delegation trip to Uganda and Rwanda. I am studying international health and development at Stanford University and hope to graduate this spring. When I first heard that I was chosen as the student award winner, I was totally humbled. Out of all the people that applied, I couldn't believe I was given the chance to witness and learn from the work of women abroad. I treasure this opportunity to see the struggle and survival of women and learn from their resourcefulness and experiences.
My parents are from Somalia but I grew up in the quiet suburbs of Texas. When I first told my family (parents, aunts and uncles) about my trip, they were supportive but cautious. As witnesses to the civil war in Somali, they are justified in being nervous. But I want to show them and the readers of this blog a different type of Africa, beyond the usual depictions of today's Africans as starving, sick and warring people. In just 2 days, I will be traveling to 2 gorgeous countries, Uganda and Rwanda. Although this region has a long history of civil strife, they are also known as the "green pearls of Africa" with bright green hills and deep blue lakes. Many have heard of Uganda in the context of politicial instability and Rwanda will forever be associated with genocide of April 1994, however on this trip I would like to take the incredible opportunity to talk and listen to the many local women I hope to meet.
I grew up around many educated and independent Somali women in my family and they served as powerful role models, sparking my passion for women's health and gender equality. On this trip, I will be reporting back about the important work of UNFPA such as outreach programs to teenage commercial sex workers in the slums of Kampala, visiting fistula hospitals and speaking with genocide survivors in Rwanda. One aspect of the work of UNFPA I deeply respect is the commitment to empowering women globally and the way it accomplishes these goals in culturally respectful ways.
As long as I remember, I have wanted to be a doctor and writer. Growing up, I remember watching the war in Somalia with my parents on CNN in our living room, eagerly listing to international reporters and aid workers who covered the famine and civil war. I gained both knowledge and a sense of responsibility and I have always hoped to address this in a dual approach, medicine and journalism. I want to report the problem and share people's lives and provide context but I also want to use my hands in places of great need.
Lately I have been questioning the point of my trip. Why is American for UNFPA providing this opportunity? I am still a student and I can't provide the technical interventions, nor donate millions but I can solely focus on conveying the essence of what I see, smell, feel to all those who can't travel half away across the world. Together, we can expand our understanding of the issues and advocate for the work of UNFPA and the lives of the millions of women affected.
I hope you check the blog each day and I look forward to hearing what y'all think!