Faiza Abbas Mahamud ’11

By STEPHANIE WEISS

A life that defies definition

Faiza Abbas Mahamud moved a lot when she was young. First her family moved from war-torn Somalia to Kenya. Then the family moved four times in Kenya, including living at one time in a refugee camp.

All the moving meant Mahamud wasn’t able to have one set of friends with whom to spend time, connect, and grow up. But she did have one constant—a dictionary.

“As a child, textbooks had to be purchased. We couldn’t buy books, but we always had a dictionary. I feel like this is a tradition in our home,” she said.

The moving stopped in 2004 when Mahamud’s family came to Minnesota.

“My aunt put her life on hold to help us,” Mahamud said. “Aside from God, if it weren’t for my mom’s youngest sister, it would be hard for us to have a stable life.”

Mahamud graduated from Roosevelt High School in 2007, then enrolled at Augsburg College. She went back to Kenya during 2010 as an exchange student to work for a United Nations agency in a variety of roles, including as a premarital counselor.

“When I went back to Kenya, I was a totally different person,” she said. “I wasn’t the girl who wanted to get away from this country. Where is home for me? When I was in America, I would say ‘I’m going home.’ When I was in Kenya, I kept calling Minnesota home.”

Mahamud, now a U.S. citizen, graduated in spring 2011 with majors in English and women’s studies and with a minor in chemistry. She’s now exploring options for graduate school but isn’t ready to confine herself only to the United States.

“I want to be in Africa to help women who don’t have that second helping hand like my aunt,” she said. “I want to be in a position to make a difference in the lives of women and children.”

And she still needs to finish reading the dictionary.

“I spent so much time reading and using the words I learned,” she said. “But there are so many words I haven’t gotten to.”

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