While working as a maid in Italy, Zeinab wanted to fit in with the community; she was later introduced to the Community of San Egidio, a humanitarian association
Zeinab Ahmed Dolal fled the war-torn African country of Somalia in the late 80s for Italy to learn Italian, receive a free education, become a nurse and now give back to the community.
She is one of tens of thousands of refugees who have found a safe life in Italy, thanks to the Rome-based Sant’Egidio community that has been awarded the 2023 Zayed Human Fraternity Prize. The award recognizes those who strive to build a more peaceful and compassionate world by advancing the values of human fraternity and setting inspiring examples that promote peaceful coexistence.
Zeinab, who came to Abu Dhabi to witness the award ceremony, told Khaleej Times how the Somalis risked everything to flee the fighting. More than 30 years of conflict have displaced large numbers of people around the world. Zeinab was also separated from his family.
“During the war, everyone was forced to leave. The conflict started in 1987, but when there was trouble in the capital, Mogadishu, in 1992, the whole world took notice. During the crisis, I was separated from my family. I think one of them Some of them are still in refugee camps.”
According to statistics from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently more than 836,300 Somali refugees and asylum seekers in the world, more than 33,600 internal refugees and asylum seekers, and nearly 3 million Somali internally displaced persons.
Luckily, Zeinab came across some Italian expats working in Somalia who were trying to get home, and she followed them.
“I trusted them. I fled to Italy with them in 1998. But I was 19 and alone. I was in Italy as a refugee. I didn’t know anyone else except those Italians who came with me. ,” she said emotionally, recalling the chaotic and warlike days in Somalia.
Zeinab started working as a housemaid for an Italian family. She wants to integrate into the community by learning Italian. The family introduced her to the San Egidio Community, a humanitarian society.
“Language is an important tool for integration into the community and I was eager to learn Italian. At the time, the Sant’Egidio community was the only association that offered free Italian lessons to refugees. They used to teach Italian on Sundays when refugees and immigrants did not work. They Doing is free.”
Later, the Sant’Egidio community helped Zeinab gain admission to public school. She completed her studies, then studied nursing through evening classes while working in the mornings.
“I have spent 35 years in Italy. The Sant’Egidio community is very important to me. Thanks to them I was able to learn Italian, study, become a nurse and serve others. They gave me the opportunity to start a new life there. The chance to live. Not just for me, but for many refugees like me,” said the 55-year-old.
The Sant’Egidio community helps refugees and supports their integration into host society through its “Humanitarian Corridors” initiative, which supports the poorest communities around the world. The association has changed the lives of thousands of refugees like Zeinab.
When asked why she chose a career in nursing, Zeinab emphasized that she always wanted to serve others.
“I’m working in a hospital now. It’s a universal job. I’m also able to serve people in other countries.”
She is involved in the Sant’Egidio Community Programme, providing healthcare services to African countries, especially their HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives.
“They (the Sant’Egidio community) helped me when I needed help. Now I help others. Instead of going on vacation or vacations, I use my vacation and free time to serve HIV/AIDS patients in African countries.”
Her goal is to continue to engage with the Sant’Egidio community and do humanitarian work.
“I am now an Italian citizen. I want to continue living like this. Only by helping others can we have a better world, there is no other way. As a Muslim, I cannot find any other way of life than helping the poor and People in need,” Zeinab added.