I was 8 years old when I fled Somalia with my parents and siblings to live in a refugee camp in Kenya. Through sponsorship, my family and I immigrated to the U.S. Life in the U.S was hard, but nothing compared to the refugee camps in Kenya. Our two-bed apartment in San Diego was a mansion compared to the dirt floor hut provided by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). At the refugee camp, I only had a thin mat for sleeping and the bathrooms were shared by the entire refugee community. In comparison, our apartment had one bathroom just for our family. As a refugee, I never quite feel settled in one place. Because of the trauma of being uprooted, I know better than to believe that one place will be my forever home. Somalis never once thought that one day, their country might not be their home. That I might one day be homeless and without a country was not something that ever crossed my mind. Today, I always worry about the state-of-affairs in the world. I worry about another war and another refugee camp. To be a refugee is an experience that shapes how you live. It stays with you for the rest of your life. Life as a refugee has no prospects. There is no school, no socializing, no employment, and no way to achieve basic life achievements like graduating from high school. There is also no healthcare or social services, and thus the health of many refugees deteriorates while in camps. This is especially true for oral care which at minimum requires clean water, toothbrush, and toothpaste. As one can imagine toothbrush and toothpaste are luxuries in an environment where basic needs like food and water are scarce. Therefore, the importance of oral care screening is paramount in newly arrived refugee families.
My education started at the age of 13 in the U.S., after leaving school in the second grade during what ended up being a 27-year civil war. As the oldest of eleven children, it was an uphill battle to be successful in school. My love for teaching started early, at home with my siblings. I tutored them daily after school and on weekends. This carried over into my college years as a tutor at Shoreline Community College and later at the instructional center (IC) at the University of Washington. I loved this part of my college years because as much as I helped, I was also learning all the time and fine-tuning how I would teach the same material next quarter. After college, I went to work for Refugee, Immigrant and Women’s Alliance where I taught a class to new families on how to approach the interview process for a job in their newly adopted country. This was more challenging than I expected; these families spent the last 5-10 years in refugee camps. They were expected to find a job, help their children through school and pay bills all in English, a language they did not speak. Therefore, I taught my class with personal anecdotes I experienced with family and friends to make the very dry material more relatable and made sure they understood “failure is not for refugees” a mantra from my mother.
Currently, I work as a nurse and am also completing my doctorate to become an acute care nurse practitioner at the University of Washington. My goal is to work with the refugee community in Seattle, as well as recruit more women from this community into the nursing field. As a refugee and someone who works in the healthcare field in Washington state, I am honored to be working with the DeRouen Center on their oral health project for newly resettled refugees in Seattle.