Littleton

Refugees’ path takes wrenching turn

GoFundMe account created as siblings face life without mother

Posted 12/14/15

Yasin Mohamud does not have words to explain the difficult situation he finds himself in, but his story does not need many to understand its depths.

The young man, who is blind and has limited English fluency, is suddenly motherless and …

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Littleton

Refugees’ path takes wrenching turn

GoFundMe account created as siblings face life without mother

Posted

Yasin Mohamud does not have words to explain the difficult situation he finds himself in, but his story does not need many to understand its depths.

The young man, who is blind and has limited English fluency, is suddenly motherless and responsible for two younger siblings, including a sister badly injured in the accident that killed their mother. Amid that upheaval, local residents have created a GoFundMe account to assist the three Somali refugees with funeral costs, medical expenses and basic living needs.

“I am feeling sad,” Mohamud said. “My mom was kind and loving. She was a good mother. But now it’s just the two children and me, and I’m blind. But I want to work. I will continue to keep on with school and the center. I’m not going to quit.”

Mohamud was born 21 years ago in the East African country of Somalia, perhaps best known among Americans for the violence depicted in the 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down” and for the pirates who kidnapped the real-life “Captain Phillips,” on whom the 2013 film with that name was based.

In 2008, at a time when Somalia topped the list of failed states internationally, Mohamud’s father was a soldier with the government-led military. He was helping to battle rebel groups in an effort to regain control of the country.

Mohamud remembers well the day that Al-Shabaab militants showed up at his family’s doorstep, looking for his father. Then just a teenager, Mohamud told the militants he didn’t know his father’s whereabouts.

So, he said, they gouged his eyes out.

The rebels eventually found his father and killed him, leaving his mother, Habibo, with Mohamud and his two younger siblings. They fled to Ethiopia.

“My country is broken, and the government,” Mohamud said.

Getting started in America

After being granted refugee status, the four family members made their way to Colorado three years ago. Mohamud’s mother and 17-year-old sister, Nunai, found work at the Cargill meatpacking plant in Fort Morgan, where a Somali community is thriving.

According to a county document titled “Morgan County: A Land of Immigrants,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid of a Greeley meatpacking plant in 2006 led to a shortage of workers in the industry. Hispanics became reluctant to fill the slots they traditionally had.

But the number of Somali refugees entering Colorado has been on a steady increase, rising from 87 in 2000 to 400 in 2014. And many are eager for jobs that require little English, so the meatpacking plant became a natural fit.

However, housing in Fort Morgan can be difficult to come by, so Habibo, Nunai and younger brother Farnan, now 12, settled into an apartment in Denver.

In the meantime, Mohamud enrolled at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, along with the Spring International Language Center based at Arapahoe Community College. He’s been working diligently since to learn English and Braille, as well as to travel with a cane and to master other independent-living skills.

“He’s just a typical 21-year-old,” said Kimberley McCutcheon, director of career and student services at the center for the blind. “He is funny and bright and questions everything, and he has a mind of his own. He’s very motivated, and he has ideas in mind for what he wants to do.”

But just as life seemed to be looking up, Habibo and Nunai — driving home from their job on Thanksgiving Day — encountered a slick patch.

“My mom was thrown out of the car, out through the window onto the street,” Mohamud said. “My mom died. My sister’s back is broken in three places.”

That means he is now the legal guardian of his two younger siblings, and that the future for all of them is uncertain.

Daunting tasks await

With only a basic grasp of English and Braille, Mohamud knows the challenge he faces to find a job to support the three of them. He’s been living in housing provided by the center for the blind, but now he’ll move to the Denver apartment. The landlord gave his OK to that plan, and Mohamud is working on obtaining food assistance and Social Security benefits.

“Unfortunately, as a visually impaired, full-time student who is currently unemployed, he will be hard pressed to make ends meet with two additional mouths to feed,” reads a GoFundMe page set up by staff at the Spring center to help with funeral costs, medical expenses and basic needs.

The page had raised $1,500 from 24 people as of Dec. 10, and Shirlaine Castellino, director of the Spring center, delivered another $560 in cash offered up by the center’s staff.

“This will no doubt be a sad holiday season for the Mohamud family,” reads the page. “But perhaps, with enough small contributions from those who have the spirit of giving still in their hearts, his burden will be eased some.”

Despite the tragedies experienced in his homeland, Mohamud yearns to return to Somalia when his brother turns 18. The country has settled down some since 2013, when the United States recognized its government for the first time in more than two decades. But Mohamud has a more personal reason.

“My wife, Estile, is in Somalia,” he said, grinning. “We got married on the phone. I haven’t met her yet.”

Such a marriage is a common tradition in the Muslim faith, noted Connie Shoemaker, co-founder and director emerita of the Spring center.

But until then, the Mohamud family has plenty of support here.

“We hope he feels that he has a community behind him no matter what, and that he won’t be forgotten after a couple of months,” McCutcheon said. “The center will continue to be his family forever, and continue to look after him and help him craft a future for himself and his family.”

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