When Naima Sharifdahir arrived in London at the age of 13 and decided to study, she knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Her family left Somalia when she was six because of the civil war and moved to Kenya, before migrating to Britain seven years later.
As a Muslim and a civil-war refugee from Somalia, she expected to face some tough odds. What surprised her was that assimilating her background posed less of a challenge than facing the low expectations and disruptive behaviour at the school she attended. Neither classmates nor teachers at South Camden Community School in Central London seemed to hold much ambition. Naima, on the other hand… did.
“The teachers would say to pupils, “don’t try to do that, it might be too hard. Don’t worry, you can get a C grade without it.” – She says in an interview with Times Online.
Against All Odds
Somali children are among the lowest achievers at school, and only a third of Somali pupils in London got five GCSEs at grade C or higher in 2007. At 16, Naima married and shortly afterwards fell pregnant with her son, Yonis, whom she now raises alone. She was warned that teenage mothers are not expected to achieve good results and are often known to drop out of school.
Determined not to give up, Naima instead wisely changed course. She left the Camden school and enrolled at City of Westminster College last year, when her son was just two months old.
Let Me In and I Won’t Let you Down
Attending the college interview with her son, Naima promised to keep up her studies and turn up for all her classes. Many at the college thought she was chasing a pipe dream, but thanks to the support of her tutor and her own grit and determination, Naima studied for ten months and sat 6 GCSEs last year. She got five As and a B and in 2008, began studying for A levels in chemistry, biology, maths and psychology.
Family Support and Faith Keep Me Strong
“My mother and father tried to drum into all their children’s heads the importance of education. I’ll always be grateful.” Naima says in the Times Online Interview. She explains how her parents supported her vision of a brighter future for her son and herself and how her mother babysat Yonis while she studied.
She also explains how important her faith is: “When I realised things were falling apart it was what held me together. My religion says you should be determined and work hard, so I did.”
A Lifetime Ambition
Naima’s ambition has always been to become a doctor, ever since she was a little girl, growing up in Somalia taking care of her brothers and sisters. Today, she considers Britain the closest thing to home as she continues on her remarkable and inspiring career path.
As someone with no concept of growing up in a civil war, stories like this make me stop and think about all the times I didn’t want to do my homework, or squabbled over some playground dispute. Women like Naima are a true lighthouse, and her story just goes to show that like James Baldwin once said “Always be careful what you truly set your heart upon, for it will surely be yours.”