As a child, Amina Saidi* was just one of many young girls who herded their family’s goats around the countryside of Somalia, at least until she was sent to Mogadishu to live in her uncle’s home and attend school. Amina worked hard at her education and was in the seventh grade when she learned that her father had died. Her step-mother quickly remarried, leaving Amina and her four teenage siblings to care for themselves. By this time, her father had left his nomadic lifestyle and settled in a village near the Shebelle River to farm. Before his death, he had been a wealthy man and the children were able to continue working the farm and providing for their needs. “We didn’t have a father or mother, but we were happy and we did a good job cooking, cleaning, gathering wood…,” she explains.
Abdi Mohammed* was 21 years older than Amina when they married. She knew that she needed a husband to provide for her, and Abdi Mohammed, an Army General, seemed advantageous. He was also well-connected, as his brother was married into the notorious Somali President Siad Barre’s family in a nation where family is everything. Amina moved back to Mogadishu, this time into a home of her own and the two lived an affluent life together. Still, she felt like an outsider, and when the sound of gunfire signaling Somalia’s civil war reached her neighborhood, her husband ran away in fear, leaving his pregnant wife with their seven children and an adolescent nephew.
For fourteen days, Amina and the children remained huddled in the house while gunfire exploded around them. “Once, we were eating our meal and a bullet came in and landed in our food. I said, ‘God, help me!’” Every day, she would feed an increasing number of people one meal of “a little meat and a lot of rice,” she says. Tanks would come by and fire on houses, but their home and the inhabitants remained, so she would say, “Today, praise God, life.”
One day, she and the children decided to escape to her childhood farm and for miles they walked. Her thirteen-year-old daughter carried the two-year-old along, as expectant-mother Amina navigated the way. They paid a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer to carry them the rest of the way. Eventually, the family made their way to Kenya.
When Amina’s sister in America decided to sponsor the family’s immigration, they traveled across the Atlantic to Virginia. Her early days here were hard. Only eleven days after arriving, her husband, who had reunited with them, died from lung cancer and pneumonia in a hospital. Overwhelmed, she would often go into the bathroom, weep for a while, and then come out determined to be strong for her children. “I didn’t know the language, didn’t have money, didn’t know where to go to get help. No one was helping then. I didn’t even know where the food stamps place was. But it was the church that helped me.” The family stayed in a Volunteers of America family shelter when they had difficulty paying their rent and then moved to Columbus, Ohio when they heard that rent there was more affordable.
Churches in Columbus kindly invited them to stay for a week at a time and fed them dinner each day. “The church people were a . . .,” she pauses as she searches for the perfect word before finally exclaiming, “. . . a community! If they sponsored four families for one week, I thought, the money is not just coming from the [institutional] church, it is coming from the community of the church! They really helped us. They were the nicest people I’ve ever met.” For the first time, Amina was seeing the church not as a lifeless structure, but as a group of living, breathing, sacrificing people. “They even helped the kids read stories and played with them. They just kept them company while the parents rested.”
Over the years, Amina was certified to work as a nursing home aid, which she enjoyed doing for many years, and she became an American citizen. She now a grandmother living in Louisville and her grandson is attending Camp Hope’s Wacky Wednesdays at Hope Place. She is very passionate about education and is hopeful for the youth mentoring and tutoring sessions that are being planned. “The reason I came here is for a better life. I came here for two things: safety and a better education for my children,” she states. Hope Place wants to help make both of those things a reality.