“You Are Very Real to Us” or When a Refugee Author Meets Fellow Immigrants

“You are very real to us.” —ELL Student, Portland Adult Education

On World Refugee Day, I’m Your Neighbor Books helped to bring award-winning author Omar Mohamed, co-creator of When Stars Are Scattered, remotely to a small class of Adult ELL at Portland Adult Education (PAE). Like many of the PAE students, Omar was a refugee to the United States. The graphic novel is the story of Omar’s childhood in a refugee camp.

Since April, the class has been reading the graphic novel one chapter per week. Despite not quite reaching the end of the book, students had questions about each of the characters—the real residents of Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya.

“Its been such a great experience; I suspect this is the first chapter book many of them have ever read, in any language. My dream is to see them become regular readers.” —Gail Burnett, Educator, Portland Adult Education

Referencing World Refugee Day and the students’ growing language skills, Omar talked about the “refugee experts” that appear on CNN and other news outlets.

“Your are the refugees. You are the experts. Don’t let others speak for you. With your English, speak for yourself. Speak for us.” —Author Omar Mohamed

Omar encouraged their continued studies.

“Thinking you are too old to learn is misleading your soul.” —Author Omar Mohamed

He also urged them to be models for their children.

“When your children see you in school, they also want to learn. You can be their model even at 100 years old.” —Author Omar Mohamed

While running a trucking company and helping raise his six children (who students got to meet on screen), Omar founded Refugee Strong. The nonprofit supports education in Dadaab Refugee Camp. Omar returns to the camp at least once a year to deliver schools supplies, period products (to allow girls to not miss school each month), and, most recently, to build a library. Beautifully, 70% of Refugee Strong’s donors are readers of When Stars Are Scattered.

“In America, their are millions of opportunities. That is why [laughing] I am so busy.” —Author Omar Mohamed