National Director Naomi Steer on her experience with refugees.
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Naomi Steer on Supporting Refugees

National Director Naomi Steer on her experience with refugees.

Throughout her 20-year career at Australia for UNHCR, National Director Naomi Steer has met many inspiring refugees, who have shared with her their own experiences and moving stories.

But the story of a young Somali girl living in the Kakuma Camp, in the remote of north-west Kenya, remains close to her heart. 

Libin caught Naomi’s attention during a visit to her school, the Angelina Jolie Secondary School for Girls, several years ago. At the time, Naomi had asked students in the classroom whether they knew anything about Australia.

“While most students remained quiet, Libin said she knew Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister of Australia – the first female prime minister of the country,” Naomi says.

“She wanted to grow up to be like her.”

Naomi kept visiting Libin on her trips to Kakuma camp — home to nearly 200,000 people, primarily from the Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa.

But on a third trip to the region, she noticed Libin was not there.

“She had received a scholarship to one of the better schools in the camp but had dropped out and we lost contact,” Naomi says.

“One of UNHCR‘s education officers told me she thought Libin had lost hope that having spent most of her young life in the camp she would never achieve her ambitions.”

Extension School Kakuma Refugee December
Students Achol, Catherine, Redcross and Divine pose for a photograph at the Angelina Jolie Primary school in the Kakuma refugee camp © UNHCR
Extension Lubin Kakuma Refugee December
Naomi with young refugee entrepreneurs outside their photographic and video studio in Kakuma refugee camp. © Australia for UNHCR

Before departing from Kakuma, Naomi left a message for Libin to contact her letting her know that she was okay.

“At first I didn’t hear anything,” Naomi says.

But then six months later Naomi received an email from Libin that said she had been resettled in Phoenix, Arizona where she was now studying fashion and was planning to write a book about her life growing up in a refugee camp.

“I remember receiving that email from Libin and feeling so happy for her. She was bubbling over with enthusiasm for her new life. We continue to keep in contact — she is now studying IT — and I love hearing about her new plans and dreams.”

Libin’s story is inspirational as she epitomises the hope and potential of so many young refugee women and girls. But her story also highlights the wasted lives when people are not supported or given the opportunity to fulfill that potential, Naomi says.

While Libin was resettled safely, the reality is that only a very few of the millions of eligible refugees will ever be resettled to a third country. Most will spend many years as refugees living in generous but poor hosting countries.

“Now I hope with your support that we can help many other young refugees achieve their full potential.”

Our mission at Australia for UNHCR is to empower refugees who continue to live in these countries. We do this by funding not only life-saving support, but also life enriching support such as education, skills training linked to pathways for jobs and higher learning opportunities.

“On my last visit to Kakuma I saw a lot of encouraging change with so many young people engaged in creative and entrepreneurial activism,” Naomi says.

“There was a young woman running a photo gallery, an enthusiastic cross cultural team hailing from Somalia, DRC and South Sudan who set up a video and photography service now contracted by many local NGOs, a young chemist from South Sudan who set up his own business producing soap and sanitation products supplying the UN and local communities.” 

Naomi never doubted that Libin would blossom with the right support.

“Now I hope with your support that we can help many other young refugees achieve their full potential.”

Extension Vtc Kakuma Refugee December
Hospitality trainees at the Vocational Training Centre funded by Australia for UNHCR in Kykaka 2 refugee settlement, Uganda. © Australia for UNHCR

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Naomi Steer on Supporting Refugees

National Director Naomi Steer on her experience with refugees.

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