One of Franklin’s Youngest Graduates Heads On to a Bright Future

By Annie Nguyen

Abdiweli knows what hope and dedication means. Talking to the calm and composed 16-year-old, it’s unlikely you could guess what he’s overcome or how quickly he’s already made Seattle home.

Abdiweli, one of Franklin High School’s youngest graduates this past June, spent more than a year hoping for his chance to come to America. Growing up without parents, Abdiweli was raised by an aunt and older brother who were forced to leave him with a neighbor in Kenya when they left for America. He was only 12 years old.

While Abdiweli knew his aunt and brother would help him come to America when they could, he also knew that it could be years – if ever – before that happened. In preparing for the possibility that that day wouldn’t come, Abdiweli committed to his studies and soccer practices. In his home country of Kenya, becoming an English translator or a soccer star were two of the only options he knew to make a living. In the 19 months he lived without family, Abdiweli never skipped a day of class or of soccer practice. Sometimes this meant overcoming significant obstacles. The kindly neighbor, who had agreed to watch over him, had a family of her own to care for first. If there wasn’t enough food on any day, Abdiweli simply wouldn’t eat.

Abdiweli’s commitment to soccer included earning a spot to the East Africa Youth Cup semi-finals and captaining at Franklin High.

Still, alone at 12, Abdiweli learned to keep fighting to be a better student and soccer player. “When you grow up without parents,” he said, “You have to look after yourself.” His dedication resulted in him serving as captain of his youth league and earning a spot as midfielder for the regional team.

All of this changed, however, when Abdiweli finally received word that he was going to America to join his aunt and brother.

The news was bittersweet, as Abdiweli’s soccer team had just qualified for the East African Youth Cup semi-finals, and the day of the game was the day after his scheduled flight to America. He got on the plane, knowing he had to give up what he had worked so hard for up to that point.

A year and half after being left behind, Abdiweli came to the United States and enrolled at Franklin High. At his brother’s encouragement, he became involved in the Refugee Women’s Alliance’s Youth Job Readiness Training program (YJRT).  Abdiweli’s brother had been in YJRT and told him that the program would help him adjust to life in America.

While in YJRT, Abdiweli learned to become a leader and a role model.  Now in his second year of YJRT, he has helped organize 18 other youth together to generate ideas for projects, and he has gained more confidence because of the trust and responsibility that ReWA teachers give him. His favorite part of the program is what he and his team are working on now, a project that gives him a platform to speak publicly about issues he cares about.

ReWA has been impressed by Abdiweli’s remarkable calmness and maturity. In addition to participating in our programs, Abdiweli also volunteers in ReWA’s Elementary Program, where he is teaching children from Somali-speaking families how to read and write in their home language through Somalia’s rich culture of poetry.

ReWA, Abdiweli says, is a helpful community for immigrants and provides a welcoming space that feels representative of the larger community. 

“The program’s like a family to you,” Abdiweli said, smiling.

These are important aspects for a teenager adjusting to a new, foreign environment.  Abdiweli jokes that in his home country, you didn’t know who lived where because neighbors would stay in each other’s houses until bedtime. The easy friendliness is what Abdiweli misses most about Kenya. Abdiweli feels that many of the people he’s encountered here spend their time inside their homes, and his interactions have felt limited to a more surface-level.

However, through YJRT, Abdiweli says he’s found a community while also getting to learn how to apply for jobs and how to advocate for himself. In fact, it was this self-advocacy, as well as the advocacy of his teachers, that enabled Abdiweli to graduate early. After multiple conversations and tests that he completed in a fraction of the time allotted, his counselors and teachers agreed that he was ready to graduate.

Abdiweli is also a participant in ReWA’s Post-Secondary Success Program (PSSP). With the help of PSSP case managers, Abdiweli applied for numerous scholarships and registered to start classes at Seattle Central College this fall, with funding from the Lotus Scholarship, the Wayne and Jean Tice Scholarship, and the Winners for Life Scholarship. He plans to pursue programs in either Civil Engineering or Law. As it turns out, he not only has a knack for languages, but he also enjoys Math and has been advised that he might have more job opportunities if he pursues Civil Engineering.

Still, he is only 16, and he knows that many things can change in the future. He also recognizes there are diverse career opportunities here in America, opportunities that he feels would have been few and far between in Africa. It’s that hopefulness that makes him excited about his next step in life. 

“Once one door closes, another opens here,” Abdiweli says. “So it doesn’t matter the path I take. There is always so much more ahead of me.”

The author, Annie Nguyen, is the Communications Director at the Refugee Women’s Alliance.