Zaynab Abdi: Nothing Gets in the Way of Education

Zaynab Abdi is a student with an impressive resume. She has spoken on behalf of the United Nations and is a Malala Fund ambassador. She knows the struggles she faces as a refugee who came to the States knowing little to no English, but she won’t let that get in her way. She’s a strong leader with a strong voice and wants to use it to better the world and give as many people as she can a better life. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

I am a refugee and an immigrant at the same time. I survived a war in Yemen, and I made it safely to Egypt before another conflict started in Egypt. I left my family and my community behind me. All I took with me was hope from my people that one day I will be a great leader, and I will bring peace to the world and to my community.

I came to the United States with an immigration visa through my mother. I started learning English when I arrived here, three years ago. This didn’t make me weak or stop me from believing in myself. I have always liked challenges, and I believe failure doesn’t exist. Failure just means the wrong thing happened at the wrong time. I graduated from high school with a 4.04 GPA, and throughout high school believed that no native speaker could be better than me as long as I worked very hard. I understand that I am struggling with the language barrier, but this would not and will not stop me from achieving, and I will continue to do the same in university.

Education is a great thing in the United States, and I am using this freedom of education as much as I can. When I came to the United States, I witnessed many people talking about refugees’ issues without knowing what it really feels like to be one. I decided to take action and stand for myself and for many refugees and immigrants who are like me. From that moment, I knew I have a strong voice and I am a good speaker.

One recent amazing experience that helped me define my leadership more was meeting Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. I was able to meet with her for more than two hours, and we had an in-depth conversation about the refugees’ struggle in getting an education. I am truly inspired by her authentic leadership style and her clear voice that speaks out for girls’ education around the world.

Two months after meeting Malala, our relationship started to get closer and we became friends. One of Malala’s representatives contacted me and asked me to attend the United Nations General Assembly’s Social Good Summit 2015, which she could not attend, and speak on her behalf. I attended the event and gave a speech titled: “What Type of World Do I Want to Live in by 2030?” I kept advocating for refugees in that summit. There were more than 500 participants. While I was nervous, I found my voice to speak on behalf of refugees and young girls who strive for an education. I was amazed to learn that the other speakers at the forum were world-renowned leaders like Joe Biden, John Kerry, Samantha Powers (U.S. ambassador to the UN), and Jane Goodall.

Through this life-changing experience, I learned that in order to truly lead with a clear voice I have to be aligned with what is right in my heart. From that day until today, I have spoken at many places across the country. I plan to serve with the same integrity and clarity in my future career by serving humanity through law.

I understand my struggle as a refugee and not having all the support to finish my education financially or emotionally. I am doing all the best to focus on my classes and at the same time working six jobs to pay my tuition. No matter what, I will continue to focus on building my leadership and help my community get a better education and better life.