A Citizen at Last

“Language is important to navigate life. You can’t fill out paperwork for a job or make a doctor’s appointment if you don’t know the language. Start learning English immediately – as soon as you arrive!”

Like any of our students, Halimo is no stranger to hard times. She fled Somalia’s civil war with her husband and parents and spent the next seven years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. During this time, Halimo was grieving the loss of her parents, with whom she had been separated during the journey. She received news that her father died and assumed that her mother had died with him. Still, Halimo tried to live as normally as possible. She and her husband started a family, welcoming the first five of their now seven children.

Finally, in May of 2011, Halimo and her family were unusually fortunate to be resettled all together in the United States. They arrived in Atlanta, Georgia while Halimo was six months pregnant with their sixth child. Within three months, they moved to Minnesota because they’d heard that the job market was better here. While Halimo and her husband did find work, they quickly encountered a new problem—lack of affordable housing. Halimo applied for subsidized housing but more than six years later, they’re still on the waiting list.

Language barriers presented another critical challenge. Halimo understood the necessity of learning English and has now been a student at the English Learning Center for almost five years. She started in beginning English and has worked her way up to level two. Sometimes, she feels frustrated by the rate of her progress. However, she had never attended school and couldn’t read or write in any language before coming to the ELC. Given where she started, Halimo’s made incredible progress, and she remains committed to achieving even more.

While there are many reasons to learn English, Halimo says that she’s in school primarily for her children, who range in age from three to fourteen. She wants to help them navigate life in the United States. It’s especially important for her to be able to communicate with her children’s teachers. “Sometimes their teachers call home to tell good news, like that my daughter is a good reader! Sometimes they call with little problems but not often. I need to know it all.”

Learning English has also helped Halimo achieve one other important goal—becoming a U.S. citizen! After three years of studying, Halimo passed her citizenship test and officially became a new citizen on November 13! At a time when welcome for refugees remains uncertain, becoming a citizen carries added meaning. Halimo explains, “I want to be part of American culture. It’s important to my sense of identity and belonging.”

Halimo’s change in status also brings with it a new hope—the chance to see her mother again. After believing that her mother has been gone for seventeen years, Halimo recently learned that she’s alive in Somalia! They’ve spoken on the phone and now Halimo, “feels so much hope that they can reunite,” and hopes to sponsor her mother to come to the United States.