If you ask Mohamed Malim about his earliest memories, his response will take you all the way to Kenya, to the confines of a refugee camp where he lived with his mother and sibling. Although he doesn’t remember all of the hardships and pain afflicting everyone in the camp since he was just a toddler, he does remember his mother, who sacrificed her safety to simply find enough food to get her family through the next day. Witnessing her sacrifice and love at such a young age shaped Malim’s life calling–to be a helper. “Giving back is part of our DNA,” he says. “Helping another human being become successful is the best thing to do on this planet.”
Today Malim is an Edina High School graduate and rising senior at the University of St. Thomas, eager to pass on the good fortune he experienced along his journey and to be that helping hand to other young refugees. Last spring, Malim and a group of friends founded Dream Refugee, a nonprofit aimed at helping young refugees find their own path to success, pursue their dreams and connect to the broader community. He’s going to start by implementing a mentorship program through Edina High School this fall and is excited to see the program grow – ideally throughout the state of Minnesota.
The biggest challenge for refugees, he explains, isn’t getting settled in the community. There are programs that help families find housing and basic necessities. But what is essential to success is integrating into society, he says, and that is often a challenge. “I want to connect refugees with new opportunities, help them grow into the country and get them out of their comfort zone,” says Malim. Beyond helping individual refugees, Malim’s greater mission is to break the theme of exclusion and xenophobia. “I want to change the misconception and the narrative,” he says. “We are successful refugees, contributing to society.”
And no one is a greater example of a hard-working and successful refugee than Malim himself. Becky Briggs, a student advocate at Edina High School, shares that when she worked with him a few years ago, “He was a hard worker. He went to his [senior-year] internship at Cargill in the morning, came back for some classes in the afternoon and then ran track after school,” she says. And on top of that, he applied for numerous scholarships to help finance his college education. Amanda Schutz, Malim’s ELL teacher and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher, describes Malim as “a doer.” “I know he was just itching to get out of his classes to start making things happen,” she says. “He’s an excellent example of why welcoming refugees strengthens communities and society as a whole.”
When Malim is not working toward his marketing degree or developing Dream Refugee, you can find him on the track, running. He now competes at the Division III level, but just a few years ago he was a novice athlete, looking to join his peers at Edina High School—his first experience outside of an all-Somali school. “It was hard, but at the same time cool to learn a new culture in a new environment,” he says. Sports allowed Malim to share a passion with other kids of different cultural and religious backgrounds. After all, he says, “All humans are more alike than different.”