The story of Habibo Haji in today’s Winona Daily News leaves us with an ongoing mystery: Why do some people survive the worst of childhoods and end up thriving, and others with more do not?
Haji was mostly raised by her grandmother in Somalia as a goat herder and nomad, working 16-18 hours a day, a fact, she told an audience in Winona, that helped make her tough.
She’d have to be. She eventually moved to a refugee camp in Kenya with 900,000 other people, the paper says.
She would carry a brother and sister on her back to UNICEF, just so her brother could drink some protein drinks to combat undernourishment. He couldn’t eat porridge, but his mother couldn’t afford the 30 shillings, or two pennies, it would cost to buy soup, Haji said.
When Haji’s cousin was beaten by her husband and couldn’t take care of her children, Haji took care of the cousin’s children, too.
She was accepted for resettlement by Catholic Charities after three years and when she arrived in Phoenix at age 16, she had never been to school, couldn’t speak or write English, and had no family here.
When she spoke to the Winona Area Retired Educator’s annual summer picnic yesterday afternoon, she did so as a a psychiatric nurse at Mayo Clinic, a mother of three, and the author of “Conquering the Odds: Journey of a Shepherd Girl.”
She taught herself English by listening to Minnesota Public Radio, and took multiple jobs to send money back to her family.
By 22, she had two daughters and a husband in Minneapolis, but around 2004, Haji said, she needed something different. She tried to complete her certified nursing assistant license, only to get three out of the 22 questions correct.
But she said it was a teacher who never gave up on her and pushed her to keep going. The teacher suggested she keep learning English, because while speaking it was now easy for Haji, she had to work on reading it to answer the questions on the test.
Why do some people who have nothing make it, and others with more do not?
Maybe she provided the answer in one of her comments to the group.
“I’m here because there were teachers who believed in me,” Haji said.