Her parents left their native country hoping for a better future. So did my parents.

She is the first in her family to attain a higher education. So am I.

As children of immigrants, it was difficult learning English as a second language but hard work and dedication moves us forward.

Meet 18-year-old Fautima, one of the most outspoken, funny and social girls I met in the Aw-barre school for refugee girls living in Ethiopian refugee camps. Fautima along with her family left Somalia as civil war erupted and found refuge in Ethiopia. Aw-barre refugee camp is home to over 12,000 refugees since 2007.

We immediately connected because of our backgrounds. Fautima told me she loves math and science and wants to be a doctor. She volunteered to help translate for younger girls who were barely learning English. Fautima was comfortable having a leadership position even if it was in a small group conversation.

Fautima has been part of the girl-friendly spaces and programs provided by Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation to help girls in developing countries be safe, healthy, educated and counted. She told me she loves coming and spending time with her friends because she feels safe and has learned to use her voice — she sure did!

Fautima talked about girls receiving an education and the necessary resources like clothing and solar lanterns to do homework at night after they do household chores. After a while it just felt like I had known Fautima for a long time. Hearing her talk and encourage younger girls to speak up reminded me a lot of the work American youth do with Girl Up clubs in our communities.

I saw a lot of characteristics in the girls I was meeting in the refugee camps. Our stories are very similar even if we live in different parts of the world. It is our challenges that brings us together and pushes us forward.

The girls I met at Aw-barre camp in Ethiopia are girls just like me. We all have a story that we carry with us and use it as our energy to thrive for the best. If for a second we put aside cultural differences, you will see that as girls we are strong but together we are stronger.

-Rocio O.

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