A Rural Refugee: Hamdi Kosar tells her story

This is an ongoing documentary project that began in the fall of 2017. In August 2019, Kosar, her good friend Jessica Rohloff, and I traveled to Kenya to visit the Dagahaley Refugee camp where Kosar was born. This project is currently funded by the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, Willmar Lakes Area Vision 2040 and a GoFundMe campaign.

WILLMAR, MN — Hamdi Kosar was 12 years old when she left everything she knew and came to the United States to find a better life.

She and her family boarded a bus in the middle of the night, said goodbye to their friends, and dreamed of the new life they were going to have.

Kosar, 20, was born at the Dagahaley Refugee Camp, one of four refugee camps based in Dadaab, Kenya, housing Somali refugees who escaped their home country's political and economic instability. She has never set foot in Somalia, but the country has shaped her life in many ways.

In March of 2011, the Kosar family traveled from Kenya to Arizona, then to several towns in Minnesota, eventually settling in Willmar. Kosar began attending Willmar Senior High School in 2012.

Throughout her teenage years, Kosar said she experienced bullying from her peers.

"They would make fun of my hijab and it would be hard for me leave class to pray," she said. "I had never been to a place where I was discriminated against because of my skin color or my faith until I came here. But, I realized Allah gave me the opportunity to show other people what I can do and fight for others."

Last month, Kosar's eight siblings and her parents flew to Garissa, a city in Kenya, to live there for several years while she and her sister Ismahan Kosar stay in Willmar. The Kosars moved back to Kenya to allow the children to familiarize themselves with the family's culture.

"I am going to miss them, but I have a life here now," she said. "It was hard to see them go, but I've created a community here and I want to keep working."

Kosar uses her experiences to voice what it is like to live as a refugee in rural Minnesota.

The adversity Kosar faced, she said, drove her to share her story and advocate for fellow immigrants and refugees in Minnesota.

"My faith tells me to give back, and I want to help others this way," she said. "I have to do it for others who are to scared to do it themselves."

Kosar continues to speak openly about her story at city, county and statewide gatherings, as well as to college students and other local political groups. She published a book in June of 2017 titled "To the

Beautiful You," about her life as an immigrant, and she is in the process of writing her second book. She said writing provides her with a platform to share her story.

Kosar is also working toward an online degree in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University.

After seven years of living in the United States, Kosar said she has found her place, and now puts her efforts into building community in the Willmar area. She does this through her work as a Somali bilingual outreach worker at United Community Action Partnership, through her volunteering to teach English classes at the Cultural Integration Center in downtown Willmar to Somali immigrants, and through her involvement in religious and political groups.

"Life will push you to the edge until you say, 'I'm ready to get up,'" Kosar said. "When you believe that God is with you throughout the entire way, when you have that trust, you are no longer fearful. That's why I do what I do and try and give back to the community."

This story was published by the West Central Tribune.