“During the civil war in Somalia, my family and I were hiding in our house in Mogadishu when it was suddenly hit by a bomb. Watching my children and husband dying, I survived the blast. While many people would not have seen any purpose in life anymore, I refused to give up after being left by myself. Despite my wounds, I escaped Mogadishu in a car. Shortly thereafter, I was involved in an accident when my car ran off the road and overturned. This left me deaf and with additional leg and head injuries. After losing my family, as well as my ability to hear, I eventually made it to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where volunteers took care of my wounds.”
These are Suad’s memories of the moments that changed her life in 2008. Once again the Somali civil war escalated, forcing the country into another humanitarian catastrophe, claiming thousands of civilians’ lives, and compelling more than a million people to flee. After seven years of being unable to hear and with very limited medical care in the Ethiopian refugee camp, Suad was finally resettled to the U.S.
When Suad arrived in St. Paul, and her journey finally seemed to be over, new challenges awaited her. Unlike most Somali refugees, who arrive with large families, Suad was completely alone. Therefore, the refugee resettlement staff of the Institute was her only support. Before arriving, Suad did not speak English, did not know much about the U.S., and coming from a city with an annual average temperature of 81 degrees Fahrenheit, had never seen snow in her life. Looking back upon her first winter still makes her smile: “It was so unbelievably cold. I fell a couple of times because I did not know how to walk in the snow.”
Suad was referred to the Institute’s extended case-management program in May 2015 due to her deafness. Institute staff helped Suad navigate many barriers she faced as she established herself in Minnesota. Suad could not afford her own housing, and had to live with strangers for some time. However, when thinking back, her eyes fill with tears of joy: “On the day I had to move, Elizabeth [Suad’s extended case manager] and two volunteers came to help me and to be there with me. I cannot tell you how thankful I was.” She felt very relieved after finally having her own home.
Elizabeth also supported Suad during the process of restoring her hearing. This March, Suad received a hearing aid for one ear and cochlear implant in the other ear. After eight years, Suad is again learning how to receive and process sounds and language. She remains unable to fully communicate and is not yet able to use the telephone. Extended case management services give her access to audiology and speech therapy, both of which are necessary for her to reach self-sufficiency. Her deepest wish is that one day at least one of her siblings or another relative could join her in the U.S., so she can share her new life, excitement, and fascination with this new culture with them.
Suad’s story was originally featured in USCRI’s Refugee Service Division newsletter issue 24 and is reprinted with permission from USCRI.