Sadiya Omar – 2016 ESL Jefferson Award Winner

March 30, 2018 01:22 PM

Imagine arriving in Rochester with just the clothes on your back, no way to make money to feed your family, and sometimes no way to even communicate. That's the story of 2016 ESL Jefferson Award Winner Sadiya Omar.

"For somebody who comes from another country, not speaking the language, not knowing the culture," says Omar. "It's like you don't know anything when you come here."


Omar runs the Refugees Helping Refugees Center on South Avenue which she created after coming to Rochester 15 years ago.

"It's important for me to help them so they can be successful in this country," she says.

Sadiya was a refugee herself after fleeing from Somalia's civil war. She ended up in a camp in Kenya for ten years. Even while living in a tent, she set up schools and made sure children, particularly girls, got an education.

"A lot of women were educated back at home so I wanted these girls to be educated too," says Omar. "I advocated for education and I advocated for women's rights."

At the center, Omar makes sure refugees can retain their native cultures, but also learn English and how to use computers. She helps them assimilate into the Rochester community, and often takes them on trips to the Public Market.

"She understands where people are coming from because she's been there herself," says Dr. Louise Bennett

Dr. Bennett nominated Sadiya for the ESL Jefferson Award.

"When she was fleeing from Somalia to Kenya, it was a very difficult trip and she had small babies with her when she came," says Dr. Bennett. "She feels that a lot of people helped her in the United States."

Even if that means volunteering seven days a week at all hours of the day or night.

"I don't care for myself, but I do care for other people," says Omar. "So it feels good when you help people."

The ESL Jefferson Award Committee was so impressed by what Sadiya Omar has done for people in Rochester that she has now been nominated for the Jefferson Award on the national level and she will go to Washington D.C. in June to be honored with other volunteers from around the country.


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