My professors have done an outstanding job in bringing Somalia into the classroom by making the current famine a reality beyond the pages of a newspaper, but it was not until Urban Plunge, an alternative fall break retreat, that the situation literally met me face to face.
I met a refugee family on the second day of our immersion experience. They arrived in Dallas in early October from the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, where the children were born and raised. After a week in the U.S., the father was working relentlessly to acclimate his family to the new country. We had the opportunity to assist them during our Urban Plunge.
During Urban Plunge, students dive into the life of a refugee for four days, and in doing so, move into Vickery Meadow community. Just five miles from SMU, Vickery Meadow is home to over 10,000 refugees from all over the world. It is normal in Vickery to talk to representatives from Burma, South Sudan and Burundi, all in one day.
Urban Plunge is a special experience in that it allows students to put a face in front of the word “refugee” so that they become more than statistics. For example, this father and his family were not among the estimated 70,000 Somalis that the United Nations expects to parish in the hands of famine. They are here, and I realized that if the world does not react appropriately, there is a good chance that we will lose them as well as others in Somalia.
Because I was familiar with the situation from class lectures, I led myself to believe that I already knew them prior to our initial encounter. The academic in me quickly began to think of the unfavorable statistics, the harsh conditions of the refugee camp, the newspaper articles that painted a very detrimental picture. I was expecting to meet a family that was defeated by the circumstances.
I could not have been more wrong. When I approached the apartment, I was met by the family’s excited children. None of them had enough face to contain the enormous smiles that lit up their apartment. They ran from room to room chasing each other and doing what children do.
After playing with the children, I was introduced to the oldest child, Abdulahi, 18 years old. We asked him if there was anything that we could assist him with. Without hesitation his response was that he wanted to go to college and he intended to go as soon as possible.
We quickly began the process with a trip to Richland Community College, where he picked up an application for admission as well as information designed for a newly arrived refugee.
Abdulahi wants to be a doctor, and after witnessing his determination and focus, I am convinced that one day I will refer to him as Dr. Abdulahi.
It will, no doubt, take time for Abdulahi and his family to achieve their dreams. It will be months until Abdulahi begins college courses and years before medical school. However, it is exciting to witness the journey from Dadaab.