Faduma Maalin will always greet you with a friendly, “Hello, how are you?” What lies behind her warm smile is the tale of a woman who has remained strong and positive despite war, prejudice, and separation from her family.
When Faduma was 15, she met and married her husband, Abdiwahab. You might call it love at first sight: “When you fall in love with someone, you get married to them,” she says. “If you don’t love them, you don’t marry them.”
Somali families come in many sizes, but Faduma was especially grateful to grow up with six siblings.
“I like the big family,” she says. Soon after her marriage, Faduma and Abdiwahab began a family of their own and their love for one another has carried them through many trials.
When civil war began in Somalia in the early 1990s, Faduma left her hometown of Beledweyne to move to the capital, Mogadishu. Despite the unrest, Faduma says “Somalia is my country,” and she has many happy memories there. In 2005, Abdiwahab made the difficult decision to move to South Africa and leave a pregnant Faduma and four of their children behind.
“My husband survived a lot in Mogadishu,” Faduma says. “There are no jobs and no life. For many problems he moved to South Africa, and for that we were separated.” The couple’s fifth child was born after Abdiwahab left Somalia, and it would be many years before father and son could meet.
It took three and a half years for Abdiwahab to work and save enough money on his journey to South Africa. There, he applied for refugee status and Faduma and their eldest child left Somalia to join him. It was difficult for Faduma to leave her home and her four young children behind, but she knew “there was no other way.”
Although jobs were more accessible in South Africa, “the people there don’t like refugees.” Life was difficult, but Faduma’s family soon grew by four more children during their years there.
When the call finally came from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it seemed like the solution to their trials in Somalia and South Africa. The family was accepted to Canada and would leave soon, but they were discouraged from returning to Somalia for their four children. They were told the children would be sent to Canada from there, and made the heartbreaking decision to move without them.
Faduma, Abdiwahab, and five of their children arrived in Saint John in April 2014. The first three months immersed in a new country with different sights, sounds, culture and language was very difficult, and Faduma fell ill. Despite many obstacles encountered in her first year here, Faduma kept her positive attitude because, “in reality, [moving to Canada] was not hard because South Africa was much harder.”
After three years – thanks to the efforts of staff at YMCA Newcomer Connections, community members, and friends and coworkers of the family – Faduma and her husband were reunited with their four children at the Saint John Airport. When Faduma saw her children stepping off the plane, she fell to the floor in tears. It had been almost 10 years since Faduma and Abdiwahab had seen their children, and it was the first time Abdiwahab met one of his sons.
Having her children in Saint John has not only made Faduma’s family complete, it has made a world of difference for Faduma. Her English is improving daily, her husband happily works at Costco, her children are successful students, and they are finally together again living what she calls a “normal life” as Saint Johners.
Being a mother of nine is “easy” for Faduma, and she certainly makes it look that way. The family enjoys walks along Lily Lake in the summer time, and Faduma often brings the youngest children to McDonald’s on Friday evenings to run and play with Canadian children. She encourages them to speak English and uses the opportunity to practice her own with other parents there. She says “I hope they learn English good and become one of the community.”
Despite the fact that Faduma was not equipped with the academic learning strategies and skills that we so often take for granted, her dedication and hard work has helped her learn quickly. She plans to continue learning English and hopes to one day work find a job as a cleaner.
Saint John has been the place where Faduma’s family has finally become complete and they are very happy to be here together.