From refugee camp to university: Fatimata’s story

How WFP’s lifesaving assistance helped an ambitious young woman pursue her dreams

WFP West Africa
Jun 19, 2020 · 4 min read

Written by Melissa Gonçalves Marques

Fatimata, her mother and sisters at the Mbera camp where they live since 2012. Photo: WFP/Francesc Galban

We met 21-year-old Fatimata in Mbera camp in 2019. At that time, she lived with her mother and two younger sisters. She was just finishing her high school diploma and waiting for a scholarship to study in Nouakchott.

It was during another visit to the camp that her mother told us with much excitement that she had obtained the long-awaited scholarship and was now studying international trade in Nouakchott. Later, Fatimata and her cousin Hayay, who had also received a scholarship to study English, met with us in our offices in Nouakchott.

Hayay (left) and Fatimata (right) in Nouakchott, in front of the WFP office. Photo: WFP/Melissa Gonçalves Marques

Fatimata has always dreamed of going to university, “I’ve always liked school. when I was in the camp, I could not help thinking about my future all the time and I was determined to make it to university”. She continues: “At the camp we lacked almost everything but, thanks to WFP assistance we were able to cover part of the family needs.”

Along with the first wave of refugees in (from Mali) in 2012, Fatimata and her family settled in Mbera camp where WFP assists more than 55,000 people through general food distributions, prevention and treatment of malnutrition and school feeding programme. The two girls grew up in the camp and WFP assistance allowed them to eat healthy and nutritious meals. Beyond the food and nutrition, this assistance also gave them access to education.

“Without this assistance, we would have had to look for food or money to feed ourselves, without having the time to go to school,” Fatimata explains. “Even if we could go to school, how could we study on an empty stomach? When I think about it, we would have had a completely different life in the camp.”

A part of the camp where Fatimata’s family lives. Photo: WFP/Melissa Gonçalves Marques

But Fatimata has now started a new chapter of her live in Nouakchott. “I live in a student house. 6 of us live in a house and we are all on scholarship. It’s great, it allows us to integrate more quickly in this new life,” she says.

Funded by UNHCR, this scholarship is part of the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) programme, which offers refugee students the opportunity to obtain an undergraduate degree in their country of asylum. With support from the German government and private donors, the programme has enabled more than 14,000 young refugees to undertake higher education since 1992.

“We are a family of nine, and all of us are perfectly aware of the difference WFP assistance is making in our lives. Every month we receive food and cash which allows us to eat regularly and have balanced meals,” Fatimata says as she looks back at her previous life in the camp.

Food and cash distributions in Mbera camp — January 2020. Photo: WFP/Melissa Gonçalves Marques

The assistance does not only feed and nourish the family. It also encourages education through the meals served at the school in the camp. “For some years now, my little brothers and sisters have been receiving school meals provided by WFP as well. This motivates them in the classroom and studying becomes less tiring with a morning porridge,” Fatimata explains.

Every year, WFP provides school meals to nearly 5,000 students at the camp. The school becomes a safe place where a daily meal can really make the difference. The support also contributes to reduce the family’s expenses and allows her mother to buy other kinds of food, such as meat and fish.

“Thanks to this assistance we never felt the lack of food, we always had a lot of energy at school and I think that’s also what got us here today,” Hayay says about the difference the support brought to their lives.

Fatimata and Hayay represent the hope of a whole family, being the only children to access to higher education so far. They want to change their lives and make their dreams come true.

Fatimata in front of WFP office. Photo: WFP/Melissa Gonçalves Marques

“Our dream is to get a master’s degree, find a job, and bring our whole family to Nouakchott to take care of them as they took care of us. We are so proud and grateful for what is happening to us.,” says Fatimata.

On this optimistic note, we invited Fatimata to visit our office to see behind-the-scenes of WFP assistance. We introduced her to all colleagues who congratulated her and were proud to see the impact of WFP assistance on the lives of people like Fatimata and Hayay.

In 2019, WFP supported 55,000 refugees every month with food assistance as well as specialized nutritional foods and school meals. This assistance was made possible through contributions by the European Commission (ECHO), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United Kingdom (DFID) and the United States of America.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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