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Nicole Gibson bio picture

Nicole Gibson

Welcome to the Nicole Gibson Photography blog! Years ago, Nicole became captivated by the power of visual expression and storytelling, and today what she loves most is to create images about the world, about humanity, and about the human condition.

Nicole Gibson is an award-winning photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She was awarded First Place in the 2010 International Photography Awards, in addition to 8 Honorable Mentions. She is also the winner of the 2008 Vincent Versace Award for Photographic Excellence. Nicole’s work has been published in Photoshop User Magazine and B&W. Her work has also been sold to Bethany House Publishers, used by various non-profit organizations, and represented by India Picture stock agency. She is also a member of the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers

Through the Deserts: The Life and Journey of the Somali Bantu

Tonight I stood outside in 111 degree weather as heat waves rippled off the ground. Around me I heard MaayMaay, Somali, and probably Swahili being spoken, and I breathed in the delicious smells of food utterly foreign to me. Where was I? Right here in Phoenix, at the Somali Bantu United Association of Greater Phoenix community center.

There are over 750 Somali Bantu refugees who fled the horrors of their homeland and now live in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve known them for many months now, and tonight I had the opportunity to be part of a dinner organized to introduce the Phoenix community to the Somali Bantu.

I was also asked to do an outdoor show of my photographs as part of the event. The photos were of actual Somali Bantu who live here and were accompanied by an account of what these refugees have lived through and what brought them to Arizona.

 

So now I’d like to share that story with you.

For hundreds of years, until civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, the Somali Bantu were persecuted as a minority group, being enslaved, subjugated, and dominated by the native Somali population. Identified by their appearance, culture, and language, the Somali Bantu have a long history with violence and oppression.

Being excluded from the economy at large, they were forced to live off whatever they could grow themselves. They were prevented from most professions and spent their days simply trying to survive, but they resourcefully managed to provide for themselves through subsistence farming.

When civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, the Somali Bantu were faced with even more oppression and violence. The discrimination against them worsened, and they were attacked, raped, tortured, and even murdered by native Somalis. To make matters worse, the entire country was in the midst of severe famine and drought, and the Somali Bantu people fled for Kenya.

But things weren’t as easy as that. They had to travel by foot through scorching heat and treacherous conditions. Not to mention, fleeing to Kenya was illegal. Those who didn’t collapse on the journey faced starvation, thirst, and attacks by wild animals.

Those who made it to Kenya were provided with food, shelter and basic protection in the Dadaab refugee camps, aided by the UNHCR.  But the discrimination and violence against them continued even there. The Bantu were shunned to the dangerous outskirts of the camps and continued to suffer rape and abuse. They kept on, though, and made a living for themselves through agriculture, selling produce, and even starting a tree nursery in one camp. Though life was still extremely difficult, the refugee camps were home to the Somali Bantu for over ten years, and many children born during that time knew of no other life.

Life couldn’t continue on as it was, so many unsuccessfully applied for resettlement elsewhere, and some tried to return home in 1996. Those who did encountered more horrifying violence and were forced to flee to Kenya all over again. But in 2002, the U.S. granted asylum to 12,000 Somali Bantu, the largest group of African refugees ever brought to America.

They were taught things like how to ride an elevator, how to fly in an airplane and how to use a stove, but the culture shock of starting over in America was – and still is – extremely intense. Trying to pass a citizenship test before knowing English, navigating the everyday workings of civil law, and trying to learn English despite old age are only some of the trials they face on a daily basis.

About 750 Bantu refugees now live in Phoenix, and the Somali Bantu United Association of Greater Phoenix continues its struggle to stay afloat and to meet the needs of its community.

Find out more about the Somali Bantu and how to help HERE.

 

 

by nicoleg

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August 16, 2011 - 11:53 am Sherry Charis - I have no words, except to say... God bless these courageous, suffering people, and God bless PCI and its friends and associates for helping! Nicole, as always, your photos are poignantly beautiful and penetrating. Thank you for doing what you do.

August 16, 2011 - 2:26 pm nicoleg - Thank you for that, Sherry! I love getting to do what I do, and I love it even more when I hear how people are moved by it.

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