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A rural refugee: Hamdi Kosar shares her story

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Erica Dischino / Tribune Hamdi Kosar rests in her apartment March 30. Despite having been in the United States for only seven years, she said she feels as if she has found her place in the community - most of which has been through her activism. "Life will push you to the edge until you say, ‘I’m ready to get up.’”2 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Kosar washes her face in the bathroom Feb. 13 before praying during her lunch break at United Community Action Partnership in Willmar. As a Muslim, Kosar prays five times a day.3 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Kosar uses her cubicle as a space to pray and her jacket as a prayer rug Feb. 13 at United Community Action Partnership in Willmar. Throughout her teenage years, Kosar said she experienced bullying from her peers.4 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Kosar walks through downtown Willmar after getting off work Jan. 12 at United Community Action Partnership in Willmar. Kosar said she has experienced multiple forms of racism and Islamophobia throughout her time in the United States. She now uses her experiences to voice what it is like to live as a refugee in rural Minnesota.5 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Hamdi Kosar and her family members carry suitcases out of their apartment in Willmar March 4 as they head to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. Eight of Kosar’s siblings and her parents flew to Garissa, a city in Kenya, where they plan to live for several years. Hamdi and her sister, Ismahan Kosar, are staying in Willmar. 6 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Members of the Kosar family print their boarding passes March 4 at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. The task required Hamdi Kosar and several friends and family members to translate English to Somali. 7 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Hamdi Kosar organizes her family’s passports, along with a family friend, at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. As one of the best English speakers in her family, Kosar often finds herself navigating her family through situations with language barriers and cultural customs. 8 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Members of the Kosar family depart for their flight to Kenya March 4 at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.9 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Hamdi Kosar, left, and her sister Ismahan Kosar, with Ismahan's 3-month-old son Ilhan Liban, sit on the couch in their apartment March 30 in Willmar. Kosar’s sister gave birth to Liban this January.10 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Kosar walks through downtown Willmar after getting off work Jan. 12 at United Community Action Partnership in Willmar.11 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Hamdi Kosar speaks about the hardships of immigrating to the United States and the importance of finding a community during an open forum Dec. 18, 2017, at a Willmar City Council meeting. 12 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Kosar helps a student Jan. 13 at the Cultural Integration Center in downtown Willmar to write words in English. Kosar volunteers to teach English to many Somali immigrants during her free time on weekends. Because of the large refugee population in Willmar, Kosar saw a need for English language education and helped to implement the classes at the center. 13 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Hamdi Kosar works on her homework Feb. 2 at The Goodness Coffee House in downtown Willmar. In addition to working a full-time job and engaging in multiple volunteer activities, Kosar is working toward an online bachelor's degree in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University.14 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Hamdi Kosar walks in her living room March 11 while talking on the phone that’s placed in her hijab. One week after her family left for Kenya, Kosar is able to stay in touch with them via technology. “I miss them a lot, but I talk to them almost everyday,” Kosar said. “My phone helps a lot with that.” 15 / 16
Erica Dischino / Tribune Twenty-year-old Hamdi Kosar stands March 27 on Fourth Street Southwest in downtown Willmar. Kosar, a Somali refugee, is celebrating her her seventh year in the United States after immigrating in March of 2011. She was born at Dagahaley Refugee Camp, one of four refugee camps based in Dadaab, Kenya.16 / 16

WILLMAR — 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."

Erica Dischino

Erica Dischino is the photographer for the West Central Tribune. Hailing from northern New Jersey, she graduated from Ithaca College in central New York with a bachelors in Journalism and Photography. Follow her on Instagram.

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