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Ikhra’s journey to OIRA: from a Kenyan refugee camp to Seattle City Hall

My name is Ikhra Mohamed and I am a first-generation undergraduate senior at the University of Washington-Seattle, majoring in Public Health and pursuing a minor in Economics.

I am passionate about public health because of its strong foundational roots in public service and social justice. Also, public health is a discipline that touches on so many diverse aspects of life – for instance, it acknowledges that health is not just about treatment, but also prevention, socioeconomic standing, quality of health, and so forth.  As a public health practitioner, I am committed to examining health through a holistic perspective. I believe effective public health policies address broad issues that can affect the health and well-being of communities, societies, populations, families, and individuals – both now and for future generations to come.

Ikhra working on OIRA’s plans for Welcoming Week from September 15-24, 2017.

As a public health student, I believe it is very important being involved in the community, especially around immigrants and refugees. As an immigrant and child of refugees, serving this community as a mentor and advocate is one that is close to home. My parents courageously fled Somalia in the late 90s after the country was torn apart by civil unrest – leaving behind family, friends, and a place of familiarity. They sought protection in one of Kenya’s refugee camps in the town of Kakuma along with thousands of others fleeing violence. After a few years, we were finally approved to immigrate to the U.S. and were ready to embark on our new journey to a foreign country, alone.

As a newly arrived family in Atlanta, Georgia, it was a very difficult start. Social workers introduced us to American customs and traditions. But they didn’t always understand how best to communicate these new concepts to us. My parents’ first jobs were working in warehouses – it was quite labor-intensive, and their shifts started at night and continued on to the early mornings. Aside from the obvious negative health impacts, this schedule also left no time for adequate interaction with family or friends.

A few years later, my parents relocated us to Columbus, Ohio where there was a much larger Somali population. My parents always stressed the importance of community as powerful! A strong community is one that is a source of alliance, acceptance, and empowerment. And I continue to witness the strength of community here in Seattle, which builds life and hope in each generation of the Somali community.

Ikhra (left) with Seattle Youth Employment Intern Kyla Tabasan (right).

Moreover, Islam is my life. Islam’s teachings of service and gratitude help me to be a better leader, student, and contributing member of society. My faith and my passion for social justice are both strong reasons why I wanted to intern at the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA).

OIRA’s mission is to improve the lives of Seattle’s immigrant and refugee populations through community engagement, increasing access, fostering connections, and building equity. I hold these same values and principles for myself.

As an OIRA intern, I’ve so far met and connected with amazing people that have committed themselves to inspiring work for immigrant and refugee communities. This internship has opened my eyes to how a team can combine policy, advocacy, and outreach toward helping communities thrive. Additionally, I’ve gained more knowledge around current immigration/refugee issues such as the Legal Defense Fund and how it will soon be providing funds to organizations for legal services, guidance, and referrals to immigrants/refugees in need of legal representation for immigration issues.

Finally, my experience here at the office has given me more awareness about the importance of civic and political engagement, especially as a Muslim and person of color during this time. I hope to continue spending all my efforts investing in the East African and refugee and immigrant communities – whether it may be through health advocacy, youth empowerment, or community building. I’m excited to see what the future holds and where my passion leads me next!