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My life experience has been very different from that of most other people, I was born when the world around me was in chaos. My mother gave birth to me during a civil war in Somali, which has left the country very unstable. The year was 1990 the beginning of a two-decade long civil war. This war did not give my family a lot of options to choose from beyond the struggle to live each day hoping we could be alive the next day.
When my mother passed on, my father had to take on the responsibility of raising three boys by himself, I and my two brothers. From this moment the life trajectory of my family completely changed. My brothers and I no longer had the love and support that a mother had always provided. My father no longer had a companion to share his life with and also help raise three young boys. He had to take on both roles and really show us that he would do whatever it takes so that we would not feel as if we had no mother.
Because of the war and the harsh life, we could no longer stay in Somalia, so my father packed what he could carry with him and we left the country to seek refuge in a refugee camp in Mombasa Kenya.
We came to Mombasa with very little resources and didn’t own anything. The only the clothes we had were the ones on our backs and in the camp, we faced prevalent risk factors that greatly affected our growth and development.
In the camp there was no education or a decent job for my father. He had to always travel outside of the camp and try to find some work so that he can earn a living and this came with its own problems. He had to leave us alone in the camp for long period of times during the day and we had to look after ourselves and sometime stayed with our neighbors. The small community looking after for us ensured that we stayed within the neighborhood boundaries. Some of big risk factors within the camp were lack of education, good nutrition, and stressful life on my father’s side. Schooling for us was a challenge too, we missed out on the early childhood stage where curiosity and experimentation are usually important. I recall hearing stories about how our nutritional status really affected how our bodies. I was overweight due to eating oatmeal every day and night because it was the only alternative we had at the moment. My brothers experienced stunted in growth due to malnutrition, which is very prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa. We experienced both forms of malnutrition, one being my obesity caused by excessive intake of foods high in calories and my brothers experienced under nutrition caused by inadequate intake of nutrients.
After sometime in the camp, living situations got worse and disease outbreaks become common. Some diseases spread throughout the camp with the influx of new refugees seeking housing. Then my father got sick and he took us to stay with my grandmother and out of the camp in Nairobi. After we got at my grandmother’s place, my father’s condition got worse and with no good medical care he later on passed on. That big tragic event changed everything we have ever known because he was the father figure and also took on the mother’s role too. This was the stage of our lives where we needed to have learned more about family relationships. We now had to learn and accept a new family life and try to adjust to living without our father and more so a parent. This new abrupt change would be long lasting and had a very significant effect on our lives as young boys now without the father figure in their lives. We had gone through very difficult life experiences at our young age as boys. We had hope and knew that everything that happened in our lives was all a plan by Allah (god) as our father always told us.
After our grandma took on the parental role, she was a bit overwhelmed with raising three school age boys who lost both of their parents and things got pretty tough for her financially. She had a very authoritative parenting style and really spoiled us, she always made sure that we were happy and never showed us that we changed the course of her life. My grandma had to take on a new role that she wasn’t expecting and really had no choice but she was happy to do so and after sometime other family members had to step in and provide family support in order to make it easy on my grandma. My aunt moved back into the household to look after us, to better the care for us. She had taken on the motherly role and helped raise us as her own. Our living transition in Nairobi was easy because we got chance to attend school and had many different resources which weren’t available to us in the camp, we got to hang out with kids of our age and our safety wasn’t no longer a concern as it was in the camp with no one there to care for us there as we no had with our family. We finally got the chance to come to the United States with our grandma, aunt and uncles as refugees and when we got here our family experienced total culture change that was shocking. My grandma had a very difficult time adjusting to this new world as she had to leave everything she knew back home and come to this new country with no knowledge of the culture or lifestyle here.
We were blessed with a social worker who provided answers for any of the questions my family had. She was there for us at all times and made the transition to this new country relatively easier than it would be without her. She took us shopping for new clothes, food and all necessary things that we needed. She helped us enroll in school, and she also took my uncles to get jobs that didn’t require them to speak or write in English. She really took good care of us and treated us like family; she showed us that we would be okay in this new country. She made life a lot easier for us and we as a family would forever be indebted to her kindness.
My life sailed smooth from there, we learned to assimilate to the United States and absorb the language, culture and its people. My grandma took sometime to get accustomed to the culture, because it was very different from what she knew back home growing up but in the end things all worked out. Until September 11, 2001 attacks on United States by so called Islamic terrorist. From there on our family were treated like outsiders and it made us feel like we didn’t belong all because of the actions of others who claimed to be Muslims.
From those historical events I learned to be more self-aware and not worry about what others believe or think about me. What stuck with me going through all that was the help that was provided by our social workers and how they went above and beyond to make sure we didn’t feel like outsiders. That is why I chose to be in the helping profession so that I can give back and be the voice for those who can speak for themselves. Most importantly I am planning on focusing my work on helping young children because of what I had to go through growing up and how I felt when we came here as refugees. I want to make sure that kids who come here won’t have to go through it alone, just as my social worker helped me. She showed me the difference a social worker can have on a child’s life and I want to be that for others. All my experiences brought me to where I am today and I wouldn’t change, it made me appreciate life and being a social worker will give me the opportunity to give back in a way that I couldn’t do with other majors. The risk factors that I experienced in my early childhood affected me in ways that weren’t adherent when growing in a Somali community. But as I get older, I notice that what we have gone through as young children stay with us because there always would be times where I would have flashbacks about the struggle we went through. My family also didn’t value education as much because they didn’t have education experiences themselves or knew the value of education that is why I am the first in my family to go to college.
This all led to understanding my own values and biases as a social worker, also how to control those values, stereotyping that we all are embedded with so that it doesn’t interfere with my practice with working with very diversity communities. I understand that people deal with very different life shaping experiences. I am prepared to attend to them in all levels, whether it is micro, mezzo or macro. I know that being more cultural competent and having a better understanding of the difference that all of us have can help shape me a better social worker.
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