Methodologically, this study is based on lead author’s autoethnography. The usage of autoethnography can be very relevant in humanitarian emergency contexts for providing a clear description of the experiences of individuals and communities involved in the crisis. It is unique from other methods in three ways. First, autoethnography takes a systematic approach to collect data, analyze, and interpret about self or social phenomena related to self, self-centered; second, the researcher is the subject and context-conscious; and third, it aims to connect self with others, self with the social, and self with the context (Ngunjiri et al. 2010).

Overall, this methodological approach enables authors to provide personal experience and put themselves in the center of their research (Teame 2020). Over the last couple of decades, there has been an impressive growth of research that has been variously referred to as autoanthropology, autobiographical ethnography or sociology, personal or self-narrative research and writing, and perhaps most commonly, autoethnography (Anderson 2006). Autoethnography offers a way of giving voice to personal experience to advance sociological understanding and this can be relevant in crisis context (Wall 2008). For example, using autoethnography, Alatrash (2018) shares her journey as a Syrian refugee living in Canada and how that has contributed to her identity. She also uses autoethnography to provide an understanding of the complexities and challenges caused by the crisis Syrian refugees are experiencing. In another autoethnographic work, Teame (2020) shares her personal experience living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, resettling in Canada in 2004, and how all her experiences shaped her identity over the years. Though both examples derive from two different individuals and regions, they have one similarity: they showcase the realities of refugees through the autoethnographic method. This further allows many groups, who are concerned about the realities of these crisis—who perhaps want to help the betterment of these groups—to get access to the true scope of the livelihoods of those involved.

While autoethnography can be a great methodological approach to use in crisis situations, perspective bias can provide some limitations when it is reported by a single person and does not have large participants (Lapadat 2017). However, the limitation of potential biases can be reduced by using information and evidence from other sources, including documents and reports from the United Nations.

The lead author wrote three different in-depth journal entries about his overall experiences in Kebribeyah. In these entries, the lead author aimed to portray the challenges, inequality, and limited opportunities he faced due to his background as a Somali refugee in Ethiopia. In the first journal entry, the author emphasized his background as a Somali refugee and the Somali culture. This is where the Somali proverbs used in this article are derived from. In the second diary, the lead author provided information on his family dynamics (e.g., family members and financial stability), his educational experiences, and his relationship with the other students. In the final entry, the lead author wrote about the Kebribeyah, its diverse residents, and most importantly, the relationships between the Somali refugees and the local Somali-Ethiopians.

Given the length of these entries, which were quite long, the most useful information shapes the findings of this article and is included in the “Findings” section of this paper. In relevance, these personal diaries consisted of three notions. Firstly, these uncovered the educational experience of the lead author in terms of the relationship between the local school and the refugee school at Dr. Abdul-Majid Hussein Secondary School. Secondly, they provided a clear message surrounding the lack of social cohesion between the two communities as seen through the lenses of the young student. Finally, those entries incorporated lead author’s personal encounters with social mistrust between the refugee and host communities with bullying from the local children.

The lead author attended Dr. Abdul-Majid Hussein Secondary School (AMHSS) from 2004 to 2011 as a student, from grade 1 to grade 8. AMHSS has a big school compound that houses two different secondary schools–the local and refugee schools–divided by a soccer field. The lead author started his education at the refugee school but transferred to the local school in grade 7, which provided him a comparative perspective on educational inequalities between the two schools at AMHSS–the local children’s school and refugee children’s school. Most of the lead author’s educational challenges started at home, even though neither of his parents attended any formal schooling. As a result, the lead author had no educational or mentoring supports from his parents. Besides, education, though both parents were aware of its relevance for his growth, was not the biggest concern they had at the time. Providing safety, shelter, and food for their children were the major priorities. On the other hand, the lead author’s experiences at AMHSS demonstrate some undiscovered challenges. He and his fellow refugee students went through an educational system that favored their local counterparts over them. Additionally, the Somali refugee children always experienced rising tensions between the local and refugee communities.

In this study, in addition to autoethnography, information, insights, and data from various sources were incorporated to verify lead author’s personal narratives, and interpretations, which allowed both the authors to avoid any biases in interpretation and helped to justify the stated arguments by maintaining objectivity.


Rag tashaday cir tararay wey toli karaan taako labadeede (If people come together, they can even mend a crack in the sky)—A Somali proverb

In this section, we share three personal narratives of the lead author relating to his personal experiences on education inequality as well as his encounters with the mistrusts between the local and refugee communities in Kebribeyah. Though each narrative might have a short description of the shared experiences, a further account is taken in the “Discussions” section.

Personal narrative

I was born to the refugee parents in the Somali region of Ethiopia, in Kebribeyah refugee camp. A year after my parents got married, neither of whom had ever attended school, they had my elder brother. Once my brother turned two, I was born. About five years later, I recall washing my face with the water I heated up by leaving out in the sun for an hour. My aunt helped me change into my new school uniform—a white shirt and blue pants. I remember her telling me and my two siblings that we would be starting school that day. I was very excited. I had always wanted to learn how to read and write for myself, and above all for my parents. They always went to my neighbor to get help in reading documents. I wanted to help them with that.

The Wadada Madow, or the “black road,” labeled the “main road” was the only paved road in the whole town of Kebribeyah. This long road divided Kebribeyah into two sides: the locals and the refugees. Wadada Madow had no end, and commuters from all over the country would take it. It led to many bigger cities like the Somali Regional capital, Jijiga, and even connected to longer routes that can take one to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. When heading toward Addis Ababa, the refugees resided on the left side while the local community occupied on the right side. Figure 2, an overview of the Kebribeyah refugee camp by the UNHCR, shows the Wadada Madow running through the town of Kebribeyah. My family of 10 people at the time lived in the houses right behind the “Mother and Children Community Organization” (MCDO) compound, in Section 4 of Zone 3.

Fig. 2

Kebribeyah Camp (UNHCR, 2012, b) (The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations)

Most days, I walked two miles from our home to my father’s grocery store. I used the “Wadada Madow to take a homemade lunch to my father and his assistant, who both worked at the store. By the time I arrived at the grocery store, I would be tired and exhausted from the Ethiopian hot weather. Before even handing over the lunch that I had brought for him, my father would rush to me and give me bottled water to cool down. However, the exhaustion from the heat was not the only hardship I faced most days. In those two-mile trips, I would encounter bullying from the local children.

Even though Wadada Madow created physical division, it was nothing compared to the effect that social division had on the two communities. The social tensions between the two communities were so impactful that the youth, the parents, and the elderly of both sides had been affected by the lack of social cohesion in Kebribeyah. The two-mile walk to the grocery store always reminded me of the existence of such division. Because I resided directly on the border between the two communities and that my father owned his own business in the town, I found myself being both the witness and victim of such social tension. Mainly because that was a territory of the locals. During the commutes to my father’s shop, I was bullied by the local children who would be using derogatory terms. The word “qoxoonti” which means “refugee” in Somali was used in a demeaning way to single out refugee children like me. They often stopped me and demanded money, snacks, and sometimes would push me to fight them. Most of the bullying took place on the Wadada Madow, right across from the UNHCR office. This would force me to take a longer route by going through the refugee camp—zones three and two—before joining the main road right behind the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) office. This office was just about half a mile from my father’s shop.

Educational system: lack of opportunities

For secondary school level refugee children, like me, our realities meant attending school at our newly built buildings. Our classrooms were well looked after, often painted, and we were given daily rations during recess (they started doing this in my third-grade year). On the other hand, the local children’s buildings were quite beat up, the paintings were washed off, and they had to pay for their snacks during recess. This often made the local children jealous of the snacks and food we were given—simply because we were refugees. Some organizations were there to give us food, shelter, and education but the local children did not have any of that, hence why our schools were much better quality. For example, our school supplies were provided to us, including our uniforms. Each year, at the beginning of the school year, we were given a certain number of pencils, books, and two sets of uniforms. Sometimes, we had extra sets of supplies that we could use.

During secondary school education, we were well taken care of and given a good educational opportunity. All of that changed by seventh grade. Around this time, many of my peers left school and some, like me, transferred to the local school. There were many reasons why we made these choices, though financial challenges and the absence of the refugee community’s high school were the biggest reasons. The high dropout rate of the refugee members before high school level education was evident in the number of my secondary level friends who were enrolled in school by seventh grade. Upon completion of secondary school, many of the immigrant children, many of my friends, found themselves becoming responsible for their families’ financial endeavors. Many became barbers, construction workers, shoe shiners, and cooks at local restaurants. Aside from the financial hardships we often faced, there was no high school for the Somali refugees. There was only one high school in the town, and it was for the locals. Because of this, entry to high school was quite difficult, especially for refugee students. As a solution, some refugee parents, like my own, transferred their children over to the local community’s school—for a better opportunity—around grade seven. Other parents pulled their children out of school to receive financial support from them.

My educational experiences in the refugee and the local schools were quite different. First, our course contents were very different. At the refugee school, it seemed as if the teachers understood our challenges. On the contrary, the local teachers did not have neither the resources nor the training to provide us with the education we needed. The most difficult part of the local school’s experience was the fact that my Amharic teacher did not speak Somali, so I was forced to learn many things in a language I was not taught during my years at the refugee school. By the time I finished 7th grade, I was discouraged from ever going to school, but my parents pushed me. One of the main reasons why I no longer wanted to continue school, aside from the difficulty level of the local school, was my cousin, Mohamed. I remember he was the best in his class. He always did homework while the rest of the kids played soccer. He finished 8th grade at the refugee school finishing 2nd in his grade. However, he did not get to go to high school. Instead, he became a shoe cleaner since he had to help his family, financially. He was not the only person whom I looked up to, who didn’t continue education after secondary school.

My neighbor, Muna, decided to stay at home after finishing secondary school. She was discouraged by the lack of preparation for high school. She once told me that “no matter how well you do in school, this will be life for you.” About a year later, she married a neighbor of mine. And though Muna’s educational endeavors were disheartening, she was among some of the lucky women in the camp. Girls were discouraged from education and given the roles at home. For example, Ayan, the girl next door, never went to school and stayed at home to help with the family affairs. Her father died a couple of years after she was born due to a bullet that hit him during the war. Therefore, with her mom being the main provider of the family, she had to take over the roles of her mom and do the cooking and cleaning around the house. The discouragement of the refugee students in the post-secondary school was quite evident in all areas of the camp. Many students would stop school and start working. Some even would start their own families. I remember one of my friends, Fadhi, 16, got married right after the 7th-grade summer break. He never returned to school and instead became a barber.

Lack of social cohesion between the refugees and locals

We got into fights with the local children, especially during recess. As the bell rang to get back to our classes, the local children would scream “qoxoonti qaaxo duud” which was a derogatory phrase that translated into “the refugees with the crooked backs.” We, on the other hand, called them “dagmo dooralay” which translates to the “dirty locals.” Many times, over, the kids from the local communities reminded us of the privileges we had simply because we were refugees.

One day, I recall, two parents (fathers) fighting outside the school. According to the stories I remember, one of them was a refugee while the other was from the local community. Their two children were in a fight the day before and both parents showed up to the school to report the other child and upon leaving the school, the parents ran into each other getting into an aggressive fight. This resulted in the arrest of both fathers and the suspension of the two students.

The mistrust the refugee children received from the local children was also evident in “football” fields, otherwise known as soccer fields. Right in between the Wadada Madow and the “Mother and Children Community Organization” compound was a soccer field where both the local and refugee children came together to play. Teams from each side would participate in tournaments, which would eventually result in violence between the players. It got to the point that the fights breaking out became a norm. I remember during one tournament when the refugees won, but of course, that upset the team from the local’s side. As a result, the aftermath of the game was so violent that some players brought machete knives and a young man died while two others were taken to the hospital that day.

Another day, around the end of 2009, two soccer teams from the two communities got into a very violent encounter and I remember seeing the two captains, around 20 years old, get into a fight after the game. During the fight, one of them was handed a knife and he stabbed the other multiple times. I, along with a couple of kids, decided to leave the scene but we were told that one of the captains had lost his life at the scene. Similar events followed the next couple of months until there were gang groups formed and violence between the refugee and local youth in Kebribeyah was at its peak around the year 2010.

Around 2010, youth groups consisting of both communities formed gangs in Kebribeyah. There were about four groups who had their territories, symbols, and rivals. This formation of groups was not surprising, but the fact that these groups had their origins from Dr. Abul Majid Hussein Secondary School was terrifying.

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