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Photo credit: Alex Buisse

1,016 kmfrom home
"Instead of saying, ‘we are refugees,’ I want us to say, ‘we are the same as the others.’ We can make it even if we live far from home."
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Mohammed is the only Somali athlete training at Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in Nairobi, as part of a program to train elite refugee athletes for international competitions including the Olympics. He runs long distance and competes in the 5000 meter race. While he did not make the initial cut for the team going to Rio, he still dreams of competing at that level in the future.

"I traveled alone from Mogadishu to Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya when I was 8 or 9 years old," Mohammed explained. "In the beginning, I stayed with another family that looked after me, but they got resettled to the USA." 

He attended primary and secondary school in the camps, but left early in order to find work. In 2013, he and his wife, newly married, moved across Kenya to Kakuma refugee camp. They have three young children. He finds it difficult to support his family and worries about their safety while he trains full time in Nairobi.

“My family members are refugees back in the camp, I have to focus and train while I am here so they don’t suffer," Mohammed continued. "If I train and do well, then they will no longer be refugees. That is why I am doing it.

“When I run, I think of a lot of things, but mainly I think about how the most important thing is to change my family's life first. I also think about helping other people because when God helps you, you are supposed to help others. One day, if you become a celebrity, people will say, ‘He was a refugee and he still made it.’”

“Mo Farah is my half brother,” said Mohammed, referring to the famous Somali long distance runner who now runs for the UK. “I hope to be as famous as him one day.” 

Mohammed believes in the power of sports to change the lives of refugees. His determination and perseverance is evident on the track during each workout.

“When I become famous, I hope to motivate my fellow refugees, wherever they are. Instead of saying, ‘we are refugees,’ I want us to say, ‘we are the same as the others.’ We shouldn’t think that we can’t make it in life because we aren’t living in our own countries. We can achieve our goals whatever they may be. If your dream is football, then you have to focus and train and you too can make it. Running is not easy, but it is easy if your body accepts it. If you give up today, then you will give up tomorrow, and for the rest of your days you will constantly give up. But if instead of saying, ‘let me die,’ you say ‘let me try,’ then you will finish the race and you will feel stronger. If you continue to push yourself, you can see if you can become number one.”

This story was told to Erin Hayba.

Alex Buisse, Erin Hayba and AISTS are currently following the story of the Olympic team of Refugee Athletes from Kenya to Rio and back. See more here.

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