Where are they now: Abdullahi
Looking up into the sky as a young boy – just four years old – Abdullahi recalled witnessing a large aircraft soar 10,000 feet above the refugee camp in Northwest Kenya where he and his family lived at the time.
Both puzzled and excited, he didn’t exactly know what had just flown overhead, so Abdullahi asked one of his elders, who replied, “That’s white man's magic … only white people go in there, and it's like their magic.”
Abdullahi quickly replied that one day he would fly in the “white man’s magic,” but little did he know at the time that he’d not only be a passenger on board an airplane – but he’d also be the one flying it.
A former student in Evergreen Goodwill of Northwest Washington’s Youth Aerospace Program, Abdullahi is now attending Central Washington University and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in aviation and business management. He hopes to not only be a pilot one day but also use his education to play a role in the economic advancement of developing African nations.
Abdullahi spent much of his childhood in a refugee camp. At the time he says he didn’t realize how difficult the living situation was for him and his family, but he’s since reflected upon exactly what he witnessed during that period of his life.
“You're never promised tomorrow because you see most of your friends dying, people who you literally went to school with yesterday, dying,” Abdullahi said. “At that point, I was like, ‘Oh my friend died, that's sad.’ But at the same time, it's tough seeing most of the horror and most of the difficulties that people go through every day in that place.”
Roughly five years ago, Abdullahi and his family made a life-altering move to the United States, first to the St. Louis area and eventually settling in Seattle.
The journey started off as exciting for Abdullahi, specifically – affording him the first opportunity to fly on multiple aircraft and overseas.
“The first time I saw the clouds and the camp that I lived in from the air, it's like, okay, cool. Now my whole life is changing,” Abdullahi said. “I was about 16.”
Adjusting to life in a new country though wasn’t the easiest transition, Abdullahi says. From learning a new language and culture, Abdullahi said school was a struggle at times – especially in the beginning. He described often sitting quietly in class and not having the confidence to speak freely.
Abdullahi says, however, one teacher helped him make a drastic change.
“She forced us to speak to everyone we can in English,” Abdullahi says. “She was like, the more you speak is the more you're going to learn.”
As Abdullahi became both more comfortable in school and in his surroundings, he began another chapter in his educational career after enrolling in Evergreen Goodwill’s Youth Aerospace Program. He recounted spending time touring airports, meeting professionals in the aviation industry and learning other general knowledge of how airplanes operate.
“That was interesting to see the production in real life, rather than just being in class and writing things down,” Abdullahi said.
Abduallahi says he’s thankful for Evergreen Goodwill also assisting and pushing him to apply for the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, which provided him with assistance that he is still using in completing his education to this day.
Despite skeptics of his career path, Abdullahi says he is right where he wants to be, and he’s determined to take to the skies as a licensed pilot.
“Some of my aunts and my community especially told me I could not be a pilot because I'm Muslim, and in the US, no one is going to hire me. And I think one of my instructors too told me that,” Abdullahi said. “At some point, it was disappointing because I thought it was true. But then I realized that it's not true. Anyone can be anything.”
He now hopes his story will provide courage to anyone who dares to pursue and follow their dream.
“My main goal is to inspire people who are like me, who wants to be a pilot but who don't believe in themselves, or their community don't believe in themselves,” Abdullahi said. “Be like, ‘Hey, I'm just like you. I came from this place, I was in the refugee camp too, and I'm a pilot right now, I'm flying in airplanes, and you can also do that.’”