Habitat homeowner Abdi’s story begins 9,000 miles away from Oregon in Jilib, a small town in southern Somalia. His journey centers on the grit, courage, and vision of someone who worked hard, saved deliberately, and reached higher. This is the story of Abdi, a Habitat homeowner living in the Helensview Community on NE Killingsworth Street in Portland.
Having grown up in the midst of striking poverty and civil war, Abdi learned early how precious and rare the comfort of stability was.
As a teenager he applied himself, worked hard, and graduated from high school in 1984. Afterwards, he quickly fulfilled his two years of state-required military service. It was from this experience that he realized the opportunity of living and working in a bigger city—so after his service, he found a good job working in an office in Mogadishu, the capitol.
At this point, he says things were going well; he was making a good living, had friends and family nearby, and was looking forward to a bright future. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond his control would make sure that wouldn’t last. One of the worst civil wars in a century broke out and Somalia began to be recognized globally as a failed state, as the nation’s governing body lost both legitimacy and effectiveness. Along with the 1.1 million other Somalis who fled to escape violence and infamous strings of genocide, Abdi fled to neighboring Kenya, where he began a new life.
Abdi was determined and resourceful. He quickly found work and established himself in Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya along the Indian Ocean. There, he would live for over a decade and work in markets selling clothing and garments. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Maryan, and had their first child, a girl.
It was the motivation of her birth, along with the opportunity of Maryan’s family being granted asylum in the United States, which motivated Abdi to make a better life for himself here. Soon he began the long and arduous process of applying for asylum for himself and his family. He remembers thinking of the difficulty in relocating again. But he took the chance and overcame the fear, because, as he says, “In America, you will always have a chance.”
Four years of waiting, and three years of separation from his wife who had been granted asylum and living in the States, he finally received word that he had been given refugee status. Soon, he was on his way to Portland, Oregon—an unfamiliar city a world far away from his known life. Upon arrival, he partnered with IRCO and Lutheran Charities to gain job training, English classes, and driving lessons. After a couple years of working temp jobs, he began a new career as a parking manager at City Center Parking where he’s worked for over a decade.
For a moment, life settled for Abdi. He and his wife welcomed two more children, a boy and a girl. His job was going well and his family was content. Unfortunately, his living conditions were not. Raising a family on his salary didn’t allow them to save much, nor did it enable them to rent an apartment that suited his family’s needs. They stayed in the same apartment for 15 years, though, because the rent was low enough to provide for his family. But the conditions were anything but safe.
The apartment building they lived in was located in the Hollywood district, close to the freeway. It had old carpets and paint, and soon they all developed allergies and his son began experiencing severe asthma. In the winter it was cold and drafty; in the summer, it was hot and stuffy. For years, he worried about the unclean conditions inside and the crime outside. Yet, he couldn’t leave, between moving fees and high rents, they couldn’t afford anywhere else.
But in 2015, he saw a neighbor packing their belongings—they had purchased a home through Habitat for Humanity and were gone for good. That’s when the light turned on in his head— “The only way to own a house, to really change our lives, was Habitat.” That’s when Abdi made the determination that he would own his own home.
After two years of working on their credit and saving money, Abdi and Maryan were finally approved to purchase their own home through Habitat. Speaking as if it were yesterday, Abdi recalls precisely, “It was Friday, December 15th, around noon. I remember the sun was shining when I got the call. A voice on the phone: ‘Congratulations, you’ve been accepted.’ I jumped up and down and people at work asked me what happened? And I screamed, I am going to own my own house!”
Fastforward two years and Abdi recalls fondly the community spirit he felt on the construction site building his home alongside fellow homeowners and volunteers. But it was the future he most enjoys talking about. When asked about the best part of owning his own home, he says stability–not for him, but for his children. He thanks God that they won’t have to flee violence or feel unsafe like he did. “We have good neighbors, a nice community, and people I trust and know,” he says, proudly. He sees that has a gift in and of itself.
Summing up his Habitat experience, he says that his home is “an opportunity that will allow me to give to my children. My dream isn’t about me anymore, it’s all for them.”