Photo credit: Courtesy of Abdulfatha
“Almost 12 years later, sitting in my apartment over looking a major highway, all I can really think about is where I would be without that IOM bag.”
Abdulfatha is referring to the IOM bag that all migrants carry during travel, so they are easily spotted in large and busy airports, and they can be assisted by IOM and its partners.
Abdulfatha with his six sisters arrived in the United States from Ethiopia in 2004. They were being reunited with their father, who had been resettled in Minnesota a few years earlier from Kenya.
“Boarding the plane for the first time, we didn't know where we were going to and did not speak a word of English. Be it not for the white plastic bag with the "IOM" logo on it, my sisters and I would've been lost. The bag was our passport to America.”
Even now, Abdulfatha keeps the IOM bag with all the documents that granted him access to the United States. “It is at my dad’s house. He keeps it in a suitcase with all the documents in it.”
“The first few years were really hard. We didn’t speak English at all. However, with seven of us learning together, we picked up the language really fast. In about seven months we were able to communicate in English.”
Besides pursuing his studies as a second year college student, Abdulfatha is also active among his community in Minneapolis. He leads a grassroots organization fighting the expulsion of tenants from public housing in his old neighborhood.
“The beauty of having been a refugee is that you have firsthand knowledge of not knowing how or where you are going to be sleeping the next day. That’s why I want to be able to help the people that are on the fringe and in risk of being evicted.
I am also working to develop pamphlets or booklets in Oromo*, as I have not really seen a lot of literature in Oromo regarding health, financial and digital literacy. I would like to start a nonprofit organization that could fill this gap.”
*Oromo is a language spoken by about 30 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Egypt and is considered to be the third largest language in Africa.