Although she thought winning the State of Michigan Breaking Traditions 2017 Excellence Award might be the pinnacle of recognition last spring, earning the YWCA Tribute Award’s prestigious Judy Lloyd Student Leadership Scholarship made Binti Abdi whoop for joy. She will receive the honor, which carries with it a $2,000 scholarship, Nov. 8 in a luncheon at DeVos Place.
Binti, a Grand Rapids Union High School junior, defied the odds when she fled an ongoing civil war in East Africa to become an honors student in the land of opportunity. Binti’s life is fast-paced with wrestling, tennis, Mayor’s Youth Council, and debate team at City High. She also runs strong with the Army’s Future Soldiers Program, SkillsUSA, and takes an Information Technology class at Kent Career Tech Center. She marches forward, unfettered by society’s boundaries.
“I am a Muslim, but I don’t wear the hijab,” or head covering, Binti said. “I’m an African but I didn’t get married at 16. I’m petite but I’m the best sharpshooter in JROTC that they’ve ever seen – I love it,” added Binti, with a giggle.
For Binti, who was the subject of a School News Network column last spring, finding a place to dream big wasn’t an easy path.
In the face of civil war and upheaval, Binti’s family fled their homeland in Kenya with the little that they could tote. Her mother and older sister took turns carrying her younger brother as they trudged from Kenya to Somalia.
Journey of Terror
“Our villages were torn apart,” Binti said. “People were running for their lives and we, too, had to run. We regrouped near the Somalia border but we knew that we must find something better.”
Once settled in a refugee camp, Binti wasn’t satisfied with her family’s safety; rather she was appalled at what her life had become. As the political violence, corruption and economic uncertainty weighed on her little shoulders, Binti grew angry and desolate. But her father, Abdikadir Msulwa, would have none of it, promising her a brighter future. “That is why we survived,” he told her.
When she immigrated to the United States with her family, Binti attended third grade at East Leonard Elementary School, picking up English with the help of an interpreter. Though she’s now fluent in four languages, including Swahili, Zigua and Arabic, she thirsts for more. She is learning Turkish online, studies Swahili to keep up her skills and attends Arabic language lessons at her mosque. “I don’t want to forget what I know,” she said.
Binti knows that life for women and girls, men and boys, should offer opportunities for thriving.
“My ultimate career goal is to become a prime minister – (particularly) in a country that has so many troubles that nobody believes that things can ever be good,” said Binti. She plans to join the Army for three to five years after high school and attend university, perhaps, overseas. But first she’s studying for her U.S. citizenship test to become an American. “That’s my priority,” she said.