Every now and then, we like to share the stories of refugees that we have the privilege of meeting and working with at Refugee Services. More than a decade after fleeing her home in Somalia, Awa finally had the chance to start life over in the US, and we wanted to share her family’s story of struggle and success in Minnesota. We hope you are inspired!
Awa lived in northern Somalia with her husband and children, one son and one daughter. The regime the family lived under became increasingly totalitarian and oppressive during the 1980s. During that time, Awa held many different jobs. She worked as a midwife, had a position with the Red Cross, and owned a family-run cafe and motel.
In the early 1990s, chaos broke out in Somalia. Rebels and government soldiers clashed violently throughout the region and Awa’s family was in constant danger. Awa’s husband was brutally murdered and the family was forced to run for their lives. The closest nation that offered refuge was Ethiopia.
They found security at a refugee camp which already offered protection to 2,000 or 3,000 other people. Awa and her children lived in a tent. Every day they struggled to find clean water to drink. The only food available were rations from the United Nations, and there was only enough to survive. There was no opportunity to work to make a living. The family lived in the camp for 11 years.
Finally, they were given a chance to live a normal life. The family was approved for refugee resettlement by the UNHCR and United States government, and Awa and her children flew to Denver, CO to start their lives in America. They remained in Denver for three months before Awa learned she had friends who were living in Minnesota. She decided to move her family to St. Paul to be closer to people she knew and for the employment opportunities that the Twin Cities offered.
Awa and her family lived with friends for two months after arriving in St. Paul. MCC Refugee Services helped her move to a new apartment, apply for public assistance and apply for a Minnesota state identification card.
When Awa first arrived in the US, she knew no English. After moving to Minnesota, Awa spent some time studying English. Awa looked back at this point in her life and said that it was “very tough in America for the first few years. I didn’t understand life here.”
After spending a brief time studying English and learning about life in the United States, Awa began working with a MCC Refugee Services Employment Counselor. Later, Awa recalled, “My employment counselor taught me how to get ready for interviews and get jobs. He helped me start a path to succeed in life.” Only two months after starting her job search, Awa found a position at Fairview Hospital in the Materials Department. She started as a Service and Product Assistant, where she ensures that all medical products are sterilized before use. She continues to work there today.
Awa and her children reside in Richfield to be closer to Awa’s workplace, and they’re very happy to be in Minnesota. Her two children attend school, and Awa is working part-time while taking classes at Normandale Community College to become a registered nurse. Reflecting on her time with MCC Refugee Services, Awa says, “Without the help of MCC, I couldn’t have reached my goal. MCC helped me a lot.”