Mohamed Malim has been a Kenyan, a Texan, a Minnesotan and a Tommie, but one thing he has always been is a refugee.
Malim was born a refugee after his family fled Somalia to escape civil war. He spent his first three years in a refugee camp in Kenya before the Malims were able to relocate to Texas and then, attracted by the large population of Somali natives, to Minnesota.
“Sometimes I had challenges growing up, integrating into society. When refugees leave their countries, that can create language barriers, it can make it hard to find jobs or to find support systems,” said Malim, who found his own support in extracurricular activities and a series of mentors at Edina High School. “Being a refugee motivates me to give back. I believe refugees are the future of America. If we invest in refugees, I believe they will lead America.”
Having graduated this spring from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in business, Malim, 22, is putting his money where his mouth is. He co-founded Epimonia, an online business that sells bracelets made from recycled life jackets that were worn by refugees.
The “embracelets” are life-jacket orange, with an inscribed, leather interior and, in addition to being crafted by refugees, the $40 bracelets pay it forward. Half the profits from selling them goes to Malim’s new charity, Dream Refugee.
“We read a lot of stories in the media that present refugees in a negative way. My goal was to reverse that, to tell success stories, to show how refugees are good people who are contributing to society,” said Malim, whose Dream Refugee site currently contains stories from about 20 refugees who are from Congo, South Sudan, Cuba, Bosnia, Liberia and Syria. Most, like Malim, have settled in Minnesota.
“Most of the refugees won’t share their stories on public media because they worry they’ll be turned in a negative way,” Malim said. “Some people flee a civil war or gang violence but one issue [we hear] when we interview the refugees is that they have confidence to share their stories on our platform because we give them full control of their narrative.”
Dream Refugee shares the stories on its website and via social media platforms: @DreamRefugee on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Eventually, Malim would like Dream Refugee to expand to include mentorships, job training, scholarships and other support programs, all designed to help decrease refugees’ isolation and increase their ability to make their way in new countries.
“Refugees are the hardest working people on this planet. For me, the word ‘refugee’ means people who go through a lot of challenges and who persevere. The word always reminds me of who I am, the struggles and challenges that I came from,” Malim said. “No matter how far I go in life, I will never lose the challenges and struggles that I went through to become this person.”
Although he has never been to Somalia, Malim credits his attitude to his heritage.
“There’s a Somali proverb that being ‘rich in the heart’ is the ultimate goal in life, instead of being wealthy or materialistic,” Malim said. “Being kind, having compassion, being empathetic toward other people — those are the important factors of being a human being.”