When Fatuma gave birth to her son, Ibram, in Des Moines last year, one of her first calls was to her own mother in Mogadishu, Somalia. The last time Fatuma saw her mother was when she was 7 years old, and her parents sent her to Kenya to live with an aunt as war broke out in the Somali capital.
Fatuma eventually was moved to a swelling refugee camp, along with hundreds of thousands of other Somalis fleeing violence.”It was a prison with no bars,” she says. “No education, nothing to do. No hope for the future.”
Her life today is the opposite of that reality. After being resettled in Iowa in 2008 by LSI, Fatuma enrolled in English classes, then worked three jobs simultaneously as she studied for her degree in human services from Grand View University in Des Moines. She was married and had Ibram. In November of 2015, she obtained her citizenship. She treasures a photo of little Ibram on her lap at her citizenship ceremony, waving a small American flag.
Today, Fatuma serves as an AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer at LSI, where she works with recently arrived refugees to connect them to services and welcome them to Des Moines.
Her past informs her future. Images of Syrian mothers cradling their young children as they flee unspeakable violence haunt her—and motivate her to continue working tirelessly to welcome refugees to Iowa. Fatuma wants to get her master’s degree and dedicate her life to working with refugees in Iowa.
Her eyes well up with tears when she thinks of the small things she appreciates now as a mother: a safe place to lay her sleeping son at the end of the day, the luxury of baby food. Fatuma speaks with her mother often and shares photos via cell phone of Ibram. “Her wish is that we see one another again before she dies,” Fatuma says.
“Only God knows when we live and when we die,” she continues. “But in the refugee camp, children and babies have nothing. No food, no nutrition. Some have only milk from their mothers, and their mothers eat nothing. I thank God every day for giving me this opportunity.”