My Space

My Space

Southern Ethiopia, February 2012 (conducting ethnographic research, or “chasing my roots”)

“In early 2012 I visited Africa. In a sense I was retracing myself, finding out how I got from there to here. I came to America almost 21 years ago as a refugee from southern Ethiopia by way of Somalia and Kenya. My mother died in childbirth when I was young. That was the end of family as we knew it, because all of us scattered around to relatives. My uncle in California adopted me and my two brothers. I had zero English when I came here—I had to start from square one, but I am now fluent in English as well as Somali, Oramo, and Swahili.

“I’m at Michigan for big reasons. My U-M SPH education will allow me to make real changes where they’re needed. My ultimate plan is to go back to Ethiopia—where there is a huge need for public health—and do health education and health behavior work in water sanitation, HIV/AIDS prevention, and maternal and child health. In particular I want to teach men about women’s health issues so that men understand that if a woman is not healthy and dies from a preventable death, it’s bad for the entire family. This is one area where my language skills and cross-cultural background will be critical.

“Immediately after graduation, I will go back briefly to southern Ethiopia to do health surveillance work and ethnographic research for a book I hope to publish about my experiences. My story would only be possible in America. To be able to make a difference wherever I go—regardless of where I go—I’m grateful for that.”

—Ali Omar, MPH ‘14, health behavior and health education