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Students hear plight of Somali refugee

Some Starpoint High School students may feel life is tough, but Issa Osman told them this week that it could be a lot worse.

The 18-year-old Somalian knows tragedy. Osman told about 150 students that warlords killed his father, a clan leader in Somalia who was trying to make peace with another clan.

Osman was 4 at the time. The killing prompted his mother to flee to Kenya with him and his four sisters and three brothers, to escape their country's civil wars. He talked Tuesday about how their life has been a struggle ever since.

His story was punctuated by tears as he told about a family no longer together. He said he had no idea how some family members are faring. The perspective on life in the developing world brought tears to the eyes of some students.

Osman recently arrived in the United States and is staying in Vive La Casa, a refugee center in Buffalo.

A group in Buffalo is helping Osman to gain entry to Canada, where he would join an aunt. He said he hopes the Canadians will hear his case and admit him.

He told the students he loves this area: "It's beautiful. Everybody's so friendly. Everybody's so kind. Everybody says hi to you, smiles at you and welcomes you. I'd be happy to stay here."

He told Starpoint students to pursue the American dream.

"Don't waste your lives. This is something other people don't have. Most people can only dream of going to a school like this."

As a young boy in Kenya, Osman said he was able to attend elementary school, but after eighth grade he was not allowed to go to high school "because I was a foreigner and had no status, no official papers." To compensate, he said, he used school books from friends to study. He also taught himself English.

To support the family, his mother washed clothes and worked in restaurants. When she could no longer do that, Osman went to work at a hotel, but gave up after he left work one night with his month's pay -- $20 intended to help feed and get medical help for his brothers and sisters.

Two corrupt Kenyan police officers, he said, stopped him, asked for his papers and then took his money.

"I had no choice," he said.

It was even worse for his sisters, who risked rape when they left their home, Osman said.

Because of the dangers in Kenya, Osman said he decided to go to America as a way to help save his family. But that required his family to sell all their possessions, including cows, to pay bribes for a passport and other documents needed for the journey.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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