Oduu Haaraya

When 18-year-old Biiftu Duresso gave her valedictorian speech about the people who inspired her, one of the people she named was the school’s janitor — her father.

 After immigrating to the US penniless and illiterate in 1983, Jamal Abdullahi worked hard to make a better life for his family, and eventually even completed his own bachelor’s degree. To give his children the best opportunity for a better life, he’s worked as a night custodian at his daughter’s school for nearly 30 years so that he and his wife, Zubaida Esmail, can support their educations. As Biiftu, who graduated from Joseph C. Wilson Magnet High School in Rochester, New York, said in her speech, “They had the audacity to imagine something better for me and my siblings.”

Abdullahi grew up in poverty in Ethiopia, and never had an opportunity to attend school since he began working on the family farm at a young age. He joined his father in Somalia in 1976 after escaping being conscripted as a teen soldier. Hoping for better opportunities, he immigrated to the US as a refugee. When he first arrived, he spoke little English and struggled to find work. Then he heard that the school district custodians were paid $5.25 per hour. He remembers that the woman who took his application said, “You won’t want to do this job. Ethiopians are well educated.’ I said, ‘Not everyone in Ethiopia is fortunate.’”

As an unenthusiastic middle school student, Biiftu traveled with her father to Ethiopia for the first time in 2007. She wrote in her college admissions essay how that experience transformed her: “Before this visit, my parents told me stories about Africa, yet I never really understood it until I went there. I was a student who did not value my education and take advantage of opportunities that were accessible to me… (My relatives’) eyes upon my life revealed my privilege.” Biiftu rededicated herself to her education and excelled throughout high school.

Biiftu will attend Barnard College this fall, and after three years volunteering at the Rochester General Hospital, she plans to become a doctor. If she does, she hopes to return to Ethiopia, where medical care is badly needed, and open a clinic. Her father is thrilled by her success, but says he can’t take too much credit: “I tell them, ‘All I can do is to help you, but it is your future, you must help yourself.”

You can read more about Biiftu and Jamal’s story on Yahoo at http://yhoo.it/1T8iqZT and the Democrat & Chronicle at http://on.rocne.ws/1BUhofz

For our favorite stories about the special relationship between a Mighty Girl and her father, check out our post, “A Father’s Love: A Mighty Girl Celebrates Fathers,” athttp://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=3637

For books starring Mighty Girls who are immigrants or children of immigrants, visit our “Immigrant” book section at http://www.amightygirl.com/b…/fiction/multicultural-fiction…

And, for a selection of our favorite stories that will remind your Mighty Girl that, even if it takes courage, dedication, and hard work, her dreams are always worth striving for, check out our post, “Chasing Your Dreams” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=5781

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