Scholar Voices: Muna Abdirahman
June 24, 1994. To my mom, that date is more important than any of our birthdays. That was the date my family moved to the United States.
I’m number eight of nine siblings and lost my dad when my mom was four months pregnant with my youngest brother. We left Somalia when the war broke out and moved to Kenya, where we lived in a refugee camp for four and a half years. I only have brief memories from that time. I remember getting packaged food flown in and dropped to us. The bathrooms were just a hole in the ground. I remember a lot of people getting tuberculosis and malaria, and my siblings getting parasitic infections. I remember the elderly not knowing how to cure certain diseases; my sister has three burn marks on her stomach and arms from holistic health and healing modalities.
When we settled in Minnesota, I was glad my mom made the move, though the first few months were rough. We lived in a homeless shelter until Hope Community gave us a home. I went to inner-city schools and wanted desperately to fit in. I begged my sisters to practice flash cards with me and test my English; I remember practicing and practicing.
I always knew I wanted to focus on medicine. While in high school, I volunteered at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, delivering flowers and eventually washing dishes and delivering food to patients. After high school, I became a nursing assistant and fell in love with the profession. I decided to become a pre-med student and was the first person in my family to get accepted to a four-year college, the University of Minnesota. My mom was so proud, but in the back of her mind, she was wondering how I was going to be able to pay for college.
I learned about Wallin Education Partners (Wallin EP) during my senior year in high school. When I got the scholarship, my mom so happy that she was in tears. Wallin EP was a huge influence on my college success. I had a network of support, including advisors and alumni that had already graduated that were checking in, sharing books with me, giving tips. I never felt like I was alone. My advisor was always checking in on me, asking how things were going and encouraging me to let her know if I needed anything.
My Wallin EP donors, Tom and Kim Holman, do not realize the tremendous impact they have had. To them, supporting me might feel like a small deed. But, it’s been such a huge, powerful thing they have done, and I can’t thank them enough. The fact that they believed in me started opening doors for me and built my self-esteem. My donors didn’t know me. They didn’t owe me anything, but they decided to help. They took a leap of faith, and I’m glad that they believed in me enough to invest in me.
If it weren’t for Wallin Education Partners, I wouldn’t have the confidence I do today. My husband is also a Wallin EP Scholar, my best friend is a Wallin EP Scholar… this program has helped so many of us. It feels great to be part of an organization that makes such a huge difference in people’s lives. I’m forever grateful to Wallin Education Partners, and I hope that one day, I can join the ranks of those who can give back.
Muna has dual Bachelor’s degrees in family social science from the University of Minnesota and in nursing from St. Catherine University. Three active military family members drew her to working with veterans; she has been employed with the Veterans Administration since 2010. Concurrently, she is a doctoral student of nurse practice at Augsburg University with a vision to close the gaps of healthcare disparity. Proud wife and mother of two, Muna is also the youngest board member of Hope Community, where she serves alongside community leaders including former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.