A Thirst for Knowledge, A Drive to Serve

Abdul Bakar’s Journey

Movement from crisis to opportunity, uncertainty to knowledge, forms the backbone of Abdul Bakar’s story. While a lifestyle of nomadic movement was familiar to Bakar in his native Somalia, circumstances and personal determination led him to his adopted home in Kansas City.

In 1992 at the age of 13, Bakar moved from Somalia and left his family behind to escape civil war and dangerous conflict. Bakar witnessed horrific atrocities and the loss of relatives and friends. He resettled as a refugee in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city with an estimated population of more than one million people. Much later, Bakar’s family also escaped Somalia’s dire situation and joined him. Until then, Bakar relied on himself to survive. He received only basic services from nonprofit agencies.  

Refugees like Bakar also faced abuse from police and bullying from Kenyan locals. Bakar taught himself Swahili to better blend in and avoid brutality and abuse. His language skills afforded him better opportunities for jobs and advancement in school.

“I worked to earn money so I could attend private school,” Bakar says. “I wanted to fill my unquenchable thirst for knowledge.”

Bakar also read books on chemistry, the arts, and every subject he could obtain a book about. In addition to work and school, he took care of his sister, who had joined him before the rest of the family arrived.

“My formal education was often interrupted by life’s demands,” he says. “In Mombasa, I rejected the lifestyle that other youth chose and the alcohol and drugs they used. I focused on survival and learning. I sought the council of the wise ones in my community.”

Despite his environment, Bakar was determined to choose wisely and rise above his circumstances. Education offered a pathway forward. Bakar met fellow students and mentors in school from other countries that opened horizons. He passed his exams and sought new opportunity.

After eight years with his family in Kenya, Bakar left the country at age 21, bound for Atlanta, Georgia. The Immigrant and Naturalization Service (INS) provided assistance with the relocation process. Background checks, medical assessments for disease and interviews were part of the protocol.

He met his wife Dahabo in Atlanta in 1999. After deliberation, they moved to Kansas City, where less expensive housing and better-paying jobs were available. The couple now has five children: Hannah, Maryam, Muhammad, Hassan and Aishah.

Bakar imparts lessons and values to his children growing up in a multicultural society. “I come from a communal society, but my children are raised in an individualistic society," he says. "I am giving them the best of both worlds.”

He encourages his children to think about the underprivileged and the environment from a communal perspective. For example, birthdays are not celebrated in Somali tradition. Yet, Bakar provided a birthday cake for one of his daughters. He took her to share the cake with homeless and underprivileged people so they could join in the celebration.

“We bring the individualistic and communal aspects together into a community-based activity, so she can see another part of the world,” Bakar says.

He describes how our nation’s patriots – referring to homeless veterans – are still fighting a war under our bridges.

 “We don’t see them and help," he notes. "There is a lot to learn by sharing the story of these people.”

Bakar continues to address locally social ills that he experienced firsthand in Africa. Education and service offered a starting point. He began studies toward an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in  curriculum and instruction from UMKC’s School of Education with a co-discipline of Social Science Consortium.

He also works as the director of refugee services at Della Lamb. The community service center provides support and teaches low-income Kansas City people of all ages and backgrounds on how to become self-sufficient and empowered.

To date, Bakar has aided 200 people per year resettle through his work at Della Lamb. The center provides access, support and training to refugees within a 90-day window. Bakar helps refugees establish basic services, enroll children in school, prepare for job interviews and find homes that are safe, secure and affordable.

Once Bakar’s studies are complete, he aims to conduct research on the impact of the refugee experience on African children. Ultimately, he wants to find ways to empower refugee kids and immigrants so they may better integrate into society.

“It requires hard work to help them,” says Bakar of his work with refugees, “but I believe it is patriotic to build a nation by helping others. Other people invested in me. I am paying back for those who helped me.”