Jamat Ibrahim, born in Ethiopia, raised in a refugee camp in Kenya, a resident of Lewiston since 2016, and Somali, is on target to become the first member of her family to graduate from high school. With a plan to attend college in fall 2020, the 18-year-old’s aspirations extend well beyond college to a professional life of service in the medical field.
“I want to be a nurse and eventually a pediatrician,” she said. “A lot of my family died of illness during my childhood” – Jamat was orphaned in Africa and moved to the United States to live with her aunt and her family – “and I first understood at age five that a lack of medical care was the cause.” She aspires to return to Kenya one day, open a hospital, hire staff, and work as a doctor.
“People have a difficult lifestyle in Kenya,” she said. “They don’t have much shelter, and only some kids go to school.” In the refugee camp, families can decide whether or not to send their children to school, she explained, and marriage at age 12-14 is common for girls. Jamat paused and smiled. “I’ll be – what – 28 when I finish medical school? That’s not so old.”
Ambitious since childhood, when Jamat enrolled at Lewiston High School in December 2016 and was placed in ELL classes, she made up her mind right away to move out of the program and into regular classes as quickly as possible. With significant English skills already under her belt, within two months she had done just that. She says she achieved her goal by staying after school, talking to teachers, and working very hard. Jamat speaks Somali and Kiswahil, and now English.
The young woman tells the story of two science teachers at LHS – Ms. Albert and Ms. Anderson – who each went out of her way to encourage Jamat to stay in a high-level science class. She had started the class but wanted to switch to a less challenging level .
“These are the teachers who inspired me to stay strong and work hard. We all need teachers like Ms. Albert and Ms. Anderson. I stayed in the class and ended up with a 98 at the end. My guidance counselor helped me as well.”
Jamat attended a week-long summer program at Thomas College in summer 2019; she’d first learned about it in her Jobs for Maine Graduates class at LHS. This summer program was the first time she had ever slept away from family. The week’s program demystified the college experience and helped her realize that she wanted to go to college.
“It was scary, but worth it. Since none of my family members went to college, I didn’t know what college was like before,” she said. “But the experience inspired me to continue my education. I received a certificate and I also earned three college credits!”
Asked what she does in her free time, Jamat responded, “I’m kind of busy. I don’t have much free time.” In addition to schoolwork, she works at Shaw’s supermarket four shifts a week and attends religious school twice a week. With any time she has left, she reads and writes stories, which she says has helped her English. She is on the lookout for programs and funding to help her afford tuition to attend college.
Lewiston High School graduation will take place on June 5, and excitement is already running high in Jamat’s family about her upcoming graduation.
“My aunt is so happy that I am going to graduate high school. She has already started buying me gifts – even though I have five months left! She is proud of me.”
If readers have information about possible funding options to help Jamat attend college, please write to her at [email protected].