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Hani Abdile: Somali poet writes her way out of detention towards a career in journalism

Hani Abdile fled Somalia when she was 16 years old, ending up in detention on Christmas Island for 11 months.
Hani Abdile fled Somalia when she was 16 years old, ending up in detention on Christmas Island for 11 months.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

Somewhere in the middle of a pile of papers in the corner of her room, Hani Abdile finds a copy of the C.C. Weekly. Penned across the pages are corrections made by the kinder of the guards, who helped to fix grammar and typos in her drafts before she distributed the newsletter to her fellow detainees.

C.C. stands for concentration camp. It's just that C.C. is a nicer way to say it.

From the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre, Hani wrote.

She wrote to improve her English.

She wrote to let others know what was available at the canteen on any given week.

She wrote to express all that she was feeling during those 11 months behind walls.

Fleeing civil war and horrific living conditions in Somalia when she was only a teenager, Hani made the long journey halfway across the world to seek asylum in Australia.

Hani Abdile has just published her first book of poetry and prose called 'I Will Rise'.
Hani Abdile has just published her first book of poetry and prose called 'I Will Rise'.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

"I came by boat. I took a boat from Malaysia to Indonesia. Then from Indonesia I took another boat and came to Australia."

From a young age, Hani knew there weren't a lot of opportunities for her in her homeland. Being born the wrong sex was her mistake.

"Back home, boys have a lot more opportunity than girls," Hani explains. 

The United Nations Development Programme says Somalia has extremely high rape, female genital mutilation and child marriage rates, and violence against women and girls is common.

"As a young person I had a vision... to come to a safer world and a place where I can get an education."

She knew she was gambling with her life, but had a clear vision of what she wanted for her future.

Hani doesn't know how she made it.

"It's up to the ocean if it will help you or not. If the ocean decides not to help you then you won't make it. But if the ocean decides 'yes, I'm going to help you,' then you're going to make it.

"Looking back at such a hard experience, I think 'Woah! When I did this was I crazy? What was going on in my mind?'"

As someone who wasn't able to swim, it's easy to see why she thought this.

"I think God was by my side and I appreciate that every day," says Hani.

For 11 months she waited in detention on Christmas Island for news of a new life.

"In life there is bad and good. It was good, and it was bad. It was bad because your future is uncertain and you don't know when you'll be free. You're locked mentally and physically. But also there were good days. There were good people there."

To pass the hours, Hani took pen to paper.

While in detention on Christmas Island, Hani would write and publish a weekly newsletter called the C.C. Weekly.
While in detention on Christmas Island, Hani would write and publish a weekly newsletter called the C.C. Weekly which she would distribute to other asylum seekers and staff at the centre.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

"I came up with the idea that I would start my own newsletter called the C.C. Weekly," Hani says.

"I would write about the issues that were happening in the centre. There was a cyclone and then medical, and food. I would have the 'Refugee of the Week' and I would have officer interviews."

Facebook also provided a platform for her work to be seen beyond the walls of the detention centre. Here she posted more personal work, sharing her thoughts and feelings of each day that passed.

Writing Through Fences founder Janet Galbraith sent Hani a message after noticing her work show up on the social media platform, and asked her if she was a poet.

"I just said no, because I didn't know the meaning of the word, and I didn't want to look dumb," Hani says. 

"Five minutes later I wanted to find out the meaning of the word... so I googled it and found the meaning."

A friendship developed between the women. Janet helped Hani to edit her work and gave suggestions of how to strengthen the poems she had been writing.

"She started sending me exercises on how to write and it was fun," says Hani.

"By the time I left Christmas Island, I had over 70 poems."

Now living in Sydney, Hani has just published a collection of her poetry and prose titled 'I Will Rise'.

"The title is after the great poet and activist Maya Angelou."

Hani Abdile currently resides in Australia where she is completing her higher school certificate.
Hani Abdile currently resides in Australia where she is completing her higher school certificate and plans to become an investigative journalist.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

 

The 21-year-old couldn't be happier. The book contains a mix of the poetry she wrote in detention and also since living in Australia.

The ambitious young woman's next goal is to become an investigative journalist, to shed light on injustices against other young women.

But first she must complete her higher school certificate.

"When I came to Australia I remember first walking into the reception [of the school] and telling the lady I wanted to be a journalist."

"My grammar was so bad and the lady looked at me and said 'Ok, but before you become a journalist I think you should go to the intensive English centre first.'"

She followed the sage advice, completing a year of intensive English studies, followed by Year 10.

Currently studying year 11, Hani is well on her way to achieving her dream.

"I Will Rise'
'I Will Rise' by Hani Abdile, is the author's first book.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

Refugee Week 2017 is from June 18 June 24, raising awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrating the positive contributions refugees have made to Australian society.

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