Mohamed vividly remembers the moment he landed at the John F Kennedy Airport in New York City. It was a cold, crisp winter afternoon in December of 2010. He was nineteen years old. The beautiful landscapes of America that he had so long heard of and imagined were covered by white snow, and three jackets weren’t enough to prevent him from shivering. “Everything was foreign—I remember trying to speak a language I barely knew to find the toilet. When I asked the airport workers, they pointed to the restrooms but I kept looking elsewhere, thinking: “I don’t need a place to rest! I just need a toilet to use.”
Mohamed Osman Mohamed was born in 1991 during the civil war in Somalia. He lost his mother at the age of five, and his dad at the age of 13. He was taken in by his aunt in the capitol city of Mogahdishu, while his brother who has had Polio since birth went to live with another aunt in a neighboring village.
When Ethiopia invaded Somalia violence erupted in the city. “In that ideological war, young men like me were the targets.” Mohamed explained. “If we survived the bullets, it was hard to avoid the opposing parties competing in recruiting us into soldiers.” His family had no choice but to flee. They crossed the border into Kenya seeking refuge in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab. Mohamed spent the next six years of his life in the camp.
”Life in Dadaab was boring and the days were very long. Day, after day after day. People watch their life slipping away before their eyes, watch their kids slip into the same numb awareness of perpetual nothingness. When there are no choices left for you, you lose the power to decide what your tomorrow will look like,” he said.
After his snowy arrival at JFK, Mohamed was welcomed by Exodus in Indianapolis along with his two cousins. “My life evolved quickly from a life of quiet resignation to a life of freedom and choices. I felt like a prisoner who had finally been released from his chains.” He worked in a warehouse for several years while he attended English classes. Once Mohamad became fluent in English, he decided he wanted to get a college degree.
“I was in a position where I wanted to help others but I needed to help myself first. After a long time contemplating my first big decision ever, I came to the conclusion that the best I could do was to take full advantage of the opportunity I was given. So, I decided to go to college—something no one in my family has ever done before.”
Mohamed attended Indiana University in Bloomington. He took 15 credit hours a semester while working over 30 hours a week; sometimes working multiple jobs to pay the bills. With trying to balance school and work, Mohamed never had the time to socialize or get involved with student organizations. To make his college experience a memorable one, he applied for the Washington Leadership Program (WLP), which is a semester-long program that allowed students to study, work, and network in Washington D.C. To acknowledge in Mohamed’s hard work and dedication, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs awarded Mohamed a scholarship to WLP. “For the first time since I started college, I didn’t have to worry about paying rent.” While in D.C. he worked as an intern for the U.S. Treasury Department.
Today, Mohamed is an American citizen, and he graduated from IU with a bachelor’s degree in Public Financial Management with honors distinction. He was also selected as the commencement speaker for the 2017 graduating SPEA class. After graduation, Mohamed earned another scholarship, in which he spent his summer at the King’s College in central London and completed his final credits of his undergrad career. Mohamed is currently an Investor in Relations Analyst. He hopes that someday he can be reunited with his younger brother and the rest of his family in Somalia.
When asked what he would like other Americans to know, Mohamed said, “I implore you to consider the power each of us has to change the world. We may not have the ability to change the whole world, but you can change the world of someone hopeless like I once was.”
Mohamed’s story would not even be possible under the current #MuslimBan against his home country of Somalia. When we ban refugees, we ban generations of future Americans.