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Borders & Heritage

Abdullahi’s Journey: From Refugee Camp to College Campus

October 26, 2015

Abdullahi Abdi is 19 years old. He was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, after his parents fled their home in Somalia.

"In Somali, there was a war going on, and a lot of people [were] dying and people were suffering, so they couldn't take it no more," says Abdi. 

Thousands of refugees entered surrounding countries, and camps were soon overcrowded, with dwindling resources.

Abdi's parents.

"The houses in the refugee camp were really small, and they didn't have beds — everybody was sleeping on the floor," Abdi recalls. "My family, we had to sleep five to six people in one room. Sometimes we had to walk miles and miles just to get water. There was a lot of hunger on top of thirstiness."

He remembers one night in the refugee camp when his neighbor was violently robbed and beaten. "That was the worst night for me at the refugee camp — I remember it as it happened like yesterday. I was, I believe, 9 years old."

When the opportunity came to move to America, his family jumped at the chance: "We hopped on a plane. I remember leaving some of my friends behind, and it was a really sad day, but also, at the same time, it was a really happy day."

Abdi began American school when he arrived, and despite being taunted because of his limited English, he worked hard in order to pursue the chance at a college education.

"I say to myself as a young man, this could be a point where I can really change my life," he says. 

And he did, graduating from high school in 2014 and receiving a scholarship to attend Lycoming College in Pennsylvania, where he plays on the soccer team.

Graduating from a university will help him help others. "I'm going to college, I'm working hard for my family," he says. "I want to take care of my family."

Abdi also wants to help children obtain the same opportunities he had, deciding recently to become a physical education teacher. His college education is almost completely covered by his scholarships, and for excess tuition costs his family has set up a Go Fund Me page to accept donations.

Abdi is hopeful for the future. "At the end of the day, you just got to keep pushing," he says. "You never lose until you give up, so never give up." 

Abdi and his mother.


Aileen Imperial

Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, PBS NewsHour, and she is a 4-time Emmy winner for feature videos in the Arts, Culture, and Human Interest. Find her on Twitter: @imperealize

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