Recently, my whole family got together to celebrate my sister’s graduation. Everyone was very excited.
But my family wasn’t always all together here in Seattle. My uncle Omar Ali is responsible for us being together at this exact moment.
To most people Ali might appear to be just a typical East African man in his early forties, but to his family he is looked at as the man who changed the lives of many.
He embarked on a long journey that could have landed him nearly anywhere. He fought to find a safe place to call home with his family on his mind at all times.
It all started when he fled Ethiopia at the age of 14. “I left behind my mom, my dad, my sister, and brothers,” he said, “The situation in there was so bad, a lot of violence.”
In the 1980s the Ethiopian and Eritrean people were in conflict. The Eritreans were fighting against the Ethiopian government, and the Ethiopian government was recruiting young people to fight against the Eritreans.
Ali is from Oromia, a region in Ethopia. During this war the Oromo people were being tortured and killed. “This situation kind of bother me, so with some of my friends we left there without saying good bye." Ali said.
Ali’s hope was to make it to America. He headed out, but wasn’t sure where he was going. On his journey, he met a man who told him he could get Ali to Somalia.
For one week they walked. “About 28 hours we walked,” Ali remembered. “[It was] very dark and also hot desert. No water, not enough food. So it was a very tough journey.”
Ali finally made it to Somalia. But after three months, another war broke out. One day he was walking home when gunman started chasing and shooting at him. He tried to run and hide.
“The shooter tried to find me and he tried to shoot me," Ali said. "The bullet is between my leg and I’m lucky to survive it.”
Eventually Ali made it to America. It took three years to get here, and his family didn’t know where he was the whole time. They didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
Ali felt isolated, like he was on an island. “I feel really sad because all of my family [is] back home,” he said. “I’m home sick. Also even though I’m an adult, I learned English like small kid. I struggle a lot.”
After not seeing or communicating with his family for years, Ali tried to contact them in Ethiopia. But it was very difficult to find them. So he wrote a letter to a relative in another village. That letter was later passed on to his mother.
Then a few months later Ali received a letter back from his mother. “I was really excited to see their letter and that they find me and I’m alive."
But it wasn’t enough to just reconnect; Ali wanted his family to come to America.
Bringing the family to America was a hard process. Ali had to juggle work and school, while doing the paperwork to bring his family here.
"I brought my brothers first and then my brother-in-law. So they bring their family and their [wives] after that. Then I bring my mother," he said. "Now I have four kids. My brothers, my sister is here with me. We are a big family here in Seattle."
Ali said that helping his family was important to him, especially the younger generation so they wouldn't have to go through hardships.
Ali's niece, Sabontu Jamal is one of those kids he helped. Her father and Ali are brothers. Ali helped her dad come to America, which resulted in her coming a few years later.
Jamal attends the University of Washington Bothell and is double majoring in health studies and society, ethics and human behavior.
“He changed my life completely,” she said. “He gave me the chance that most kids growing up my age in Oromia wish that they had, but were never given.”
What goes through my mind every day is that if my uncle was able to come from nothing and change people’s lives, why can’t I do something with all these resources surrounding me?
This shows me I can make a change too, not just in my life but in others too. I plan to major in international business and work in community development in Oromia.
This story was created in RadioActive's Summer 2016 Intro to Journalism Workshop for high school students at KUOW. Production support from Ann Kane. The editor is Jim Gates. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.