Many of us living in America, the land of freedom, have probably never experienced the challenges and trauma that stem from the disaster of a civil war. We often find ourselves trying to understand but are not fully able to comprehend the refugee experience, but I have lived this life and I’m grateful for the lessons it has taught me as a Somali-American. I have confronted and conquered the difficult realities of becoming an American. My family's journey took us out of Somalia and into Kenya. As a child, I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. My family and I were paired with thousands of starving, desperate people in the largest refugee complex in the world. To the world it was a refugee camp, to us it was home. Located in Dadaab, Kenya, basic necessities such as clean running water and food, not to mention basic medications were scarce, and dreams of proper schooling and what lies in our future seemed so out of reach.
At the age of three, I experienced that when it comes to war, mercy doesn’t exist. Nights of starvation, fear and hopelessness were an everlasting theme. Many of my memories came from the stories my mother told me, as I was too young to recollect many of these incidents. My mother still remembers the cries of babies who were starving to death, and the agony of not being able to help them. She had to care for me and my brother with barely any necessities available. My mother would sometimes go out in the middle of the night, amidst the chaos of the refugee camp, to find food for our family, sacrificing her safety, only so that we would have enough to make it to see another day—often times repeating the process as if it were ritual.
I am the oldest of six siblings, 3 boys and 3 girls. Shortly, after my first brother was born, my parents were fortunate enough for our name to be drawn in the lottery system by UNCHR. Our first year in the United States was in Houston, Texas. We were then sponsored by the Lutheran Church who brought us to our permeant home in Minneapolis, MN. Minneapolis-St.Paul is the home of the 2nd largest Somali population outside of the country of Somalia.
We thought that after coming to America everything in life would be so easy, we thought we would be rewarded for all the hardships we endured but that was not the case. Although life here is great, life in America came with a new set of challenges that we had to face. Learning a new language, feeling isolated by being different than so many people, not fitting in, not knowing our way around were just a few. My parents learned a new language (at least enough to get us where we needed to be), found jobs and a home where they could raise us. My dad was able to support the family through an hourly job at the airport and my mother set out to raise the family. It is amazing how this is the story of so many refugees, just like me and my family, who remained resilient when the odds were against them.
My families obstacles have taught me to always believe in my dreams and to never give up. My mother’s dream was for my siblings and I to obtain a proper education, a roof over our heads and never to worry about food on our plates. It means everything in the world that my mother’s dream is now becoming a reality. I was the first in my family to graduate high school and received a college education through a full-ride scholarship at a prestigious private university and to participate in collegiate athletics. I excelled in track and field competition, including the Drake Relays. My brother and sister have gone on to receive a college education, while my other siblings excel in high school studies.
My mother’s struggle and resilience has led me onto a path of continuously trying to help others, to live my dreams for all those who couldn’t live theirs; never forgetting where I came from. I’m inspired to keep moving forward and trying to become a better person for my family, others from my country unfortunately left behind, and my community whose stories are almost the same as mine. My mother constantly reminds me, “We are one of the lucky ones that were able to achieve our dreams.”
Thank you for opening your hearts and minds to hear the dreams of me and my fellow refugees who are grateful to have started a better life, who spread their stories to educate the rest of America on their individual paths towards success.