Cover of the book Warda: My Journey from the Horn of Africa to a College Education, published by Beaver’s Pond Press 2020 | The author of the memoir, Warda Mohamed Abdullahi. Photo by John Schaidler.
Warda Mohamed Abdullahi's Story
Ever since Warda Mohamed Abdullahi ’20 came to America from South Africa in 2016, people around her were amazed by the story of her life. Her seven siblings would gather in her room before bedtime, asking for stories from her grandfather’s farm in Ethiopia. Mr. Lewis, Abdullahi’s high school principal in Grand Rapids, Mich., and some of her teachers read her college scholarship essays and were in awe of what they learned about her journey and immigration to the United States. “Warda, the world needs to know your story,” Lewis would say to her each time he passed her in the halls. On Abdullahi’s high school graduation day, Mrs. Waite — one of Abdullahi’s teachers — hugged her and said, "Promise me you will write about your life’s journey? You are such an inspiration for many. Considering all the trouble and obstacles you've overcome, you amaze me". All of their encouragement sparked something in Abdullahi. “It made me realize my story is unique.”
To most of us, “unique” is an understatement. As Abdullahi shares in her recently published book, Warda: From the Horn of Africa to a College Education, she has seen and experienced more in less than three decades than most people do in a lifetime.
As a baby, she lost her mother when an overloaded ferry capsized in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, tossing both Abdullahi and her mother into the churning waters. Abdullahi was saved at the last moment by her uncle Omar, who found her floating on the waves and swam her to shore. As a young woman, she faced down wild animals to protect her family’s livestock and travelled across the African continent to find her father before reuniting with him in South Africa. When she and her family finally got official refugee status, they moved to America to start over once again, where — despite not being able to read or write — she persevered and received her high school and college degrees.
Inspiration and motivation at St. Kate’s
Abdullahi decided to come to St. Catherine University in the fall of 2016. “After doing a tour of all the universities I had been accepted to, St. Catherine University stuck with me for a couple of reasons. St. Kate’s is led by strong women, taught mostly by women, and I fell in love with the campus. St. Kate’s also educates women to lead and influence, and I want to be part of that. During my tour, I stopped by the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women, and I liked that there were people I could relate to. I met a lot of students of color, students who were willing to help me through the transition from high school to St. Catherine University,” says Abdullahi.
At St. Kate’s, Abdullahi excelled, becoming a public health major with minors in English and chemistry. “St. Catherine University is an important part of my journey that I will forever cherish. I was lucky to have great teachers who have supported me throughout my time at St. Kate's and helped me connect with many professionals,” says Abdullahi.
During her first semester, Abdullahi took a class called Immigrant Perspective in Literature taught by Professor of English Susan Bosher, PhD. “The books we read talked about immigrants who struggled just like me, and their struggle made them better people. These writers achieved so much and overcame many obstacles and challenges, and inspired me to write my story,” recalls Abdullahi. For her senior honors project, Abdullahi finished writing her story and publish it as a book.
Associate Professor of Public Health Meghan Mason, PhD, says, “In addition to the incredible personal journey she shares so willingly with the reader, Warda's curiosity and interest in medicine and deep understanding of the determinants of health are apparent throughout the autobiography."
As the book’s synopsis says, “Warda is the story of the unbreakable human spirit, a powerful memoir that helps us to understand some of the inequities and injustices embedded in a global system that determines who is allowed to move freely and live where they choose.”
What the future holds
Abdullahi’s book was released on December 15 through publisher Beaver's Pond Press. Within two days it was the #1 new release on Amazon in the Teen & Young Adult Social Activist Biographies category. “We had to restock the book in the first week, as it almost sold out,” Abdullahi says. “I am beyond excited!”
She graduated from St. Kate’s in 2020 and is planning to attend medical school to become a family physician. When people read her book, Abdullahi hopes it will inspire them as well. “I was once a farm girl who could not read or write and only spoke one language (Somali)… I want others to know that anything is possible that you set your mind to and never give up your dream regardless of your situation.”
Learn more about Warda Mohamed Abdullahi and her book: https://wardaabdullahi.com/