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Hear My Story: Rooa

Stories of tragedy, courage, and hope reborn: these are the voices of the refugees served by Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.   Learn more about the refugee experience from those who have lived it first hand.

What is your name?


Can you tell us about where you’re from?

Somalia. I lived in Somalia for seven years, and I went to Indonesia and lived there for almost four years, then I came to America.

What was life like before coming to the US?

In Somalia, it was really hard, to be honest. Everybody was hungry and kids were hungry. People wanted jobs, and there was war. In Indonesia, it was kind of easy because we got to go outside, have some fun. When we came to America, it was 100 percent better. 

Did you come to the US with family?

Yes, I came with my mom, my dad and my sister, but my little sister was born in America two years ago.

What was your first impression of Columbia?

Nothing, to be honest. It was okay, but in Indonesia, we didn’t go to school. In America, I started going to school and I was so shy. People would look at me because I’m in my hijab at school. It got a little better; now, I have about eight friends. You don’t have to have a lot of friends to be popular, you know? 

When I came to America, there were a lot of people who were like, “OMG, can I be your friend?” and I was like, “Okay, fine, I guess.” I had friends, and then when I went to middle school. People started changing, so then I was like, “Okay, okay, I see you all,” and I started having friends. In seventh grade, now I have about eight people. One of them, she’s my favorite, super understanding. One of them, she’s my best friend. We always FaceTime every day. I know three people from other schools, they go to West Middle School. We just became friends. 

What was the hardest thing to learn about life here?

Old people, they stare at me for no reason, like when I walk . Me and my mom always go downtown and walk there, but it’s okay, I just walk with my mom, that’s all. 

How do you feel about the community in Columbia?

People are nice, like with Refugee and Immigration Services, they’re so nice. 

How has Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services helped during your transition to life in the US?

It was kind of hard. My parents had to go through a lot of interviews to come to America. It took us three and a half years, and there’s a lot of people in Indonesia. Some families lived there, and some families went to Canada, Australia. It was really hard though.

They helped us a lot. They got us a home, food, clothing. They still help us, but in 2018, they kind of stopped because we can do everything on our own now. We can go to the mall, drive, and everything.

What was the first school you went to? Where are you now?

I went to Paxton Keeley first, and now I go to Smithton. My sixth grade math teacher, she was the best. She helped me a lot. In seventh grade, my favorite class would be choir, because it’s so easy. You just sing.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Working with RIS, since 2019. I help them set up some things, and I helped them with World Refugee Day, 100 percent. The kids, they were so nice. I took a lot of pictures with them. There were a lot of kids, and they kept on hugging me. Like, “Can I do my work for one minute?” 

What is your dream for the future?

I want to help stop world hunger.

What is your favorite thing about your home country?

I like the food, that’s about it.

Are there any family or cultural traditions you keep?

We have some cultural dresses. It’s like a long dress with small sleeves. In my language, it’s called baati. We have a lot at home, especially in my mom’s closet. I’m just like, “Can you give me one?” and she’s just like, “No,” and I’m like, “Why?” She says, “Because we might go to a wedding.” 

For weddings, the material of the dress is so special. If something happens to it, it’s going to stretch it out. My mom has a lot of those. I have about five. 

We can’t show our ankles in our religion, so when men come to our house, I have to wear the long dress. I don’t really care, so I just wear my sweatpants. 

What does being American mean to you?

Life is easy, compared to Somalia and Indonesia. That’s it. But not 2020. When 2021 comes, and I hear someone talk about 2020, they’re going to get out, because I don’t want to talk about 2020 anymore. I’m tired of it, it’s not even December yet. 

What does being a refugee mean to you?

A lot of people helped us. They helped us with food, clothing, housing, how to drive, and how to get jobs, like the application. My mom, she didn’t know how to fill out the application, so she just came to this building and they helped us. 

What does World Refugee Day mean to you?

I volunteered, a lot of people did, too, and a lot of people came. It was the best day ever. I took a lot of pictures with the kids. I saw a lot of cultures, I tried a lot of foods. I ate it all. I tasted it with my friends, we were like, “This food’s the best,” and then we were like, “No, this one’s the best.” I don’t know which one to choose, but all of them were the best.

World Refugee Day changed a lot. In 2017, there were a few people, then 2019 there were a lot. I felt like this year we’d have more people, but then 2020 came. 

Do you feel like there are misconceptions about being a refugee?

Sometimes, it’s embarrassing. When you tell an American citizen, when you say, “Oh, I’m a refugee,” in your heart or in your brain, you think maybe they’re going to make fun of you, maybe they’re not. 

What do you want the community to know about your country or culture?

A lot of things, like the food especially. The accent in Somali is really hard, so that’s another thing they’ll have to know. The men, their clothing, they have to wear this big, long, macawis. It’s like a long skirt, they have to tie it. My dad wears it in the house, not outside. He doesn’t feel comfortable with people staring. 

What do you want the community to know about refugees?

They need a lot of help, to be honest. Maybe people need to help each other so we can work together and make this world the best. But we can’t, because there’s not a lot of people that support, that’s why. 

What would you tell yourself when you first arrived in Columbia?

I was quiet. I had a big glow-up, to be honest. I used to wear anything, I’d just be like, “Okay, let me wear that,” but now I know my style. I just go online shopping, and I’ll be like, “Mom, can we get this?” and she’ll be like, “Nope,” and I’ll be like, “Okay, fine.” I just changed my style a lot. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Some teachers, one substitute teacher, she was so racist. She was like, “Why are you wearing your hijab?” and I was like, “Uh, okay, I can’t wear it?” and she was like, “No,” and so I was like, “Okay,” and I just left the classroom and went to the principal and I was like, “This teacher, she was complaining about my hijab,” and they were like, “Okay, we’ll fix it.” 

In sixth grade, this teacher on the first day of school, I was wearing my hoodie and my hijab, and both of them were matching, because I’m supposed to match my t-shirts, and she was like, “Why are you wearing a hood?” and I was like, “I’m not even wearing a hood,” and she was like, “Yeah, you are.” I was like, “Just because they’re the same color, does not mean I’m wearing a hood.” I had to go to her, and she had to touch my hijab to check that I’m not wearing a hood. It happens a lot, to be honest, but I don’t really care. During September, I just have to watch out.