University of Minnesota: Once a refugee herself, student organizes relief mission to Somalia

In the midst of studying for finals last fall, second-year law student Samia Osman stumbled across some distressing news from her native Somalia. Nearly 6 million people faced a mammoth humanitarian crisis stemming from a confluence of factors, including drought and flooding brought on by climate change, as well as famine, conflict, and COVID -19.

Osman immediately started researching the crisis, feeling compelled to help. She and her friends, Khadija Ali and Sumaya Abshir, formed Unity for Humanity—a project meant to raise money for and awareness of relief efforts in Somalia. They quickly raised more than $6,000 and partnered with the Humanitarian African Relief Organization (HARO) to transfer the funds for use in Somalia, where 260,000 people have died recently and 800,000 children are at risk of malnutrition.

After weeks of fundraising, researching, and meeting with humanitarian groups in Minnesota, Osman flew to Somalia over the winter break to fact-find the root causes of the crisis and deliver some assistance. She spent 18 days traveling across the drought-stricken country to see conditions firsthand, meet with officials, and help distribute food, water, and other supplies to people in need.

The work rekindled memories of Osman’s experience as an 8-year-old refugee.

“I always say I’m a refugee and it’s a point of pride for me because it means I’ve overcome so much to be where I am,” Osman says. “That’s why I wanted to help in some way. I couldn’t just donate and turn away. Not when I have been in their shoes.”

While in Somalia with HARO, Osman visited two refugee camps and found deplorable conditions, including people living without food, water, or electricity. She helped deliver barrels of water and food supplies to 150 families totaling about 1,000 people.

Osman also secured meetings with high-level government officials to learn about the causes of crises and how the government was helping people in need. What Osman saw on her visits to the refugee camps led to heated moments when she pressed the officials on human rights concerns and on where millions of dollars in humanitarian aid was going.

“I wanted to know why these people were not being helped,” she says. “When I asked, I wasn’t given any useful answers. Thankfully, my law school courses have taught me how to push for answers and advocate for others.”

After obtaining her JD, Osman plans to pursue a Master of Laws degree in human rights in armed conflict areas.

No matter what direction her career ultimately takes, Osman says she will always remember the lessons she learned from her time in Somalia, including how difficult humanitarian work can be.

“I left there exhausted, both emotionally and mentally. It was a struggle and frustrating and at times terrifying,” Osman says. “I don’t know if what we did was helpful, but when we were done giving out the food and water, all I heard were prayers and blessings from those around us. The laughter of the children I was playing with and the smiles of the elders erased every hardship it took to get to that moment.”

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