Dr. Anisa Ibrahim was 5 years old when her life was uprooted by the grisly consequences of a gruesome civil war.
Fleeing Somalia in 1992 with her family, Ibrahim sacrificed a year of her childhood in refugee camps in Kenya.
“There were so many people in small quarters, all of us were fleeing the downstream effects of violence and political unrest,” Ibrahim, 32, told CNN.
“Our family was luckier, but there was a lot of poverty, malnutrition, and infectious diseases and outbreaks.”
The following year, Ibrahim’s family was relocated to the United States, where she and her siblings including a younger sister who had recently contracted measles were treated at Harborview Medical Center’s Pediatrics Clinic in Seattle.
It is the same center that Ibrahim more than two decades later now runs.
At a time when the nation’s refugee resettlement efforts have eroded under White House pressure, she still looked upon refugee children who come to the facility with the same hope she once felt as a young patient.
‘I am not this exceptional human being,” Ibrahim said.
‘There are millions of refugees right now who are not being given the opportunities that I have been given.
And if they were, they would do incredible things.”
Her doctor became a mentor who paved the way
‘Ibrahim had always known she wanted to be a doctor.
And her time at the clinic made her realize that her dreams were more than just fantasies.
The treatment she received as a refugee, she said, “solidified” her decision.
‘My pediatrician at Harborview was one of the first people who believed in me and that
‘I could become a doctor,’ Ibrahim said.
‘For me, as a young refugee, saying, ‘This is my dream, and having someone already doing it actually believing in you is so meaningful.’
That pediatrician was Dr. Elinor Graham, associate professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Washington.
‘In the clinic, I would always ask children what they want to be when they grow up, what were their dreams?
I remember Anisa at around age 10 saying that she wanted to become a pediatrician like me,’ Graham told CNN.
‘As a Somali refugee who wore hijab, the Islamic headscarf, Ibrahim saw no one who looked like her in her field.
‘That often made her doubt she would be accepted into medical programs.’
‘Immersed in a culture so unlike the tight-knit Somali communities Ibrahim came from, the social isolation she felt was also difficult to overcome, she said.
Now a mother to two daughters, with a third baby on the way, it also was important for Ibrahim, like so many parents, to never have to “sacrifice motherhood for medicine or medicine for motherhood.
A community of people supporting her, Ibrahim said, has helped her do both.
Today, Ibrahim directs the clinic and cares for patients who are often newly arrived or previously resettled refugees and immigrants.
Along with improving the health of children who are in the same position she was in 26 years ago, Ibrahim hopes to fight the negative rhetoric surrounding refugees in America, she said.
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