Somali refugee turns new life in Australia into OAM

Somali refugee turns new life in Australia into OAM

Abdirahman Mohamud, a father of nine,runs a convenience store in Moorooka, but has also joined Australian peacekeepers in Somalia as a translator during Operation Solace.

Abdirahman Mohamud, a father of nine,runs a convenience store in Moorooka, but has also joined Australian peacekeepers in Somalia as a translator during Operation Solace. Photo: Michelle Smith


Brisbane Times
Monday, June 10, 2013

Wearing a pinstriped suit, Abdirahman ‘‘Abdi’’ Mohamud sits in a worn office chair talking frenetically on his mobile phone.

About 12 minutes south of Brisbane’s CBD, Mr Mohamud’s convenience store is nestled on a sliver of Beaudesert Road, Moorooka, unofficially christened ‘‘Africa town’’.

The kilometre of road here is a testament to the virtues of second chances.

Surrounded by an eclectic mix of soaps, hair products, rugs, pressure cookers and clothes, Mr Mohumud welcomes visitors to his store with a broad grin, ushering them inside with the wave of a hand.

‘‘Come, come,’’ he says.

When he realises this reporter is at his door he taps the leather seat beside him, while still talking in his mother tongue.

As his phone conversation ends, Mr Mohumud slips off his brown sandals and crosses one leg over the other.

The father of nine was born in the city of Baidoa, south-central Somalia.

His beaming smile gives no clue to the horrors he witnessed in his home country – the horrors of seeing children starving in the streets, fearing at the same time he would not be able to feed his own sons and daughters.

‘‘It was the ‘city of death’,’’ he says.

‘‘The bones of the people were lying everywhere. There was the whole village, around 2000 to 3000 people, perished. It was heartbroken. Nobody can imagine.

‘‘It was genocide. It is beyond to comprehend what it was like.’’

Before arriving in Australia, he was held captive by the Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who was to gain world notoriety as the antagonist in the film Black Hawk Down.

Abdirahman "Abdi" Mohamud.» I never find difficult being in Australia,» Abdirahman Mohamud says. Photo: Michelle Smith

‘‘I had started university when the civil war began and worked with the international community, including the Australian Defence Force, because I spoke English,’’ Mr Mohumud, 46, says.

He joined 1000 Australian peacekeeping soliders as an interpreter. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Australians’ deployment to Somalia under Operation Solace.

‘‘After the United Nations left the warlord kidnapped me, but I was able to flee to Kenya,’’ Mr Mohumud says.

After a year in a refugee camp, Mr Mohumud and his wife, Odpi, and their six children boarded a plane to Australia, courtesy of the Australian High Commission.

The young family arrived in Brisbane on December 4, 1998.

‘‘It was like my birth date,’’ Mr Mohumud says.

‘‘Australia is the lucky country. The good thing about Australia is they have a culture that is open-minded to everyone, and they are good to hosting people.’’

Mr Mohumud started driving a taxi the following year.

Within six years, he had saved enough money to open his own business, and had another three children. He’s now a grandfather.

‘‘I never find difficult being in Australia,’’ he says.

His grin broadens when he speaks of daughters, Masra, 27, Amale, 23, Hani, 21, Kowther, 20, Adni, 12 and Arafo, 9, and his sons Abdima, 17, and Abdi, 16.

They are completing degrees in medical engineering, business, psychology and international relations.

However, other Somalian refugees have struggled to settle in their new home.

Mr Mohumud explains grievances between tribes and communities have traversed oceans.

He established the Somali Development Organisation to unite his community, while helping those in his home country.

‘‘I decide to link them. I tell them the only thing to success in this country is unity,’’ he says.

He now acts as a translator for Somali refugees, helping them seek medical treatment, legal aid and financial assistance.

He also teaches them the ways of the land.

‘‘I put a lot of effort to explain to them Australia is a country for everyone, same rights for everyone,’’ he says.

While working with the troops, Mr Mohumud became familiar with the Australian sense of humour. He tries to explain this too to the new arrivals.

And in the afternoons the small business owner is also a tutor, helping local children with their school homework.

He believes in paying it forward, ‘‘because I witness the pain of the poor’’.

He sponsors families still living in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp.

‘‘We send a lot of money,’’ he says.

‘‘Then those families support more families.’’

For his service to his community, Mr Mohumud has been awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia.

‘‘From July, I will include my name O.A.M,’’ he says with a chuckle.

‘‘I am so proud.’’
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