Asha Farah, spent the first 11 years of her life as a nomad in Somalia.
For half the year, she chased the rainfalls and raised livestock with her mother and siblings. Their only shelter was a portable house made of bent sticks, dried grass and woven mats.
“As a child, my daily life focused on battling thirst, hunger and extreme drought,” Farah explained.
Farah’s uncle had moved to the city to build a better life. He found work and received an education. And, like many in Somalia who reach a certain level of success, Farah’s uncle was intent on supporting his nomadic family. He began by educating his younger brothers and their children, including Farah’s brother.
In the mid-1970s, Farah and family members still living as nomads lost everything they had to drought. Her brother, who had become an officer in the Somali Army, evacuated the family. Farah, now twelve years old, was exposed to Somalia’s city life and school for the first time.
“From the moment I got the chance to read and write, I knew it was my turn to make it and never forget others who did not get the rare opportunity I had been given,” she said.
Eleven years later, Farah moved to Washington, D.C. She began a new life, taking advantage of every opportunity before her. However, there was more Farah wanted for her life, so she headed west to pursue her dreams.
“As difficult as the nomadic life was, I’m incredibly thankful for the survival skills it gave me,” said Farah. “Somali nomads are proud, resilient, and resourceful. These traits came in handy as I adjusted to life in the U.S.”
A Starbucks Journey Begins
Farah’s Starbucks journey began in 1998, when she accepted a temporary position at Starbucks Support Center in Seattle.
“Starbucks was not well known when I started, yet I saw the opportunity that the company’s welcoming culture represented right away,” Farah shared.
Within months, she was hired fulltime on the Store Development team and over the next several years, helped to open stores in the Pacific Northwest, Western Mountain region and Canada.
“As a nomadic child, there were many days that a small container of water allowed my family to survive another day. The same little girl who was literally dying for a drop of water is now a Starbucks partner (employee) opening stores and contributing to the company’s success,” Farah said. “If you open the opportunity door for a child, like my uncle and brother did for me, you are creating endless possibilities for that child.”
Farah was encouraged by the level of support Starbucks provides partners who wish to volunteer. She began tutoring young Somali-American children at local schools in Seattle. Soon, she was using her vacation time to return to Somalia and help educate kids there as well.
Today, sixteen years later, Farah is poised to do what her uncle and brother did so many years earlier – pull children out of poverty and provide them with an education.
Teaching Somali Youth
In 2008, Farah joined three like-minded Somali Americans to start the Karin Foundation, a nonprofit that supports education for underprivileged children in Somalia. The foundation re-opens schools, provides supplies, pays teacher salaries and sustains classrooms in small remote villages.
“Educating kids who live a nomadic lifestyle is challenging,” said Farah. “Families move around so frequently that it’s hard for kids to continue with their schooling. We just want to plant educational seeds to create a glimmer of hope for these kids.”
The Karin Foundation began its most ambitious project in 2014, by developing the Burao Academy of Science and Technology, one of the first science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) co-ed boarding schools in Somalia. The school’s main goal is for every student to graduate and either pursue higher education or build a successful vocation in the country.
“My passion for Burao Academy’s mission is, of course, deeply rooted in my background,” she said. “I know exactly what it’s like to have no future or opportunity because it did not exist for me and my family for a very long time. Burao Academy will provide opportunities for young people who would otherwise face a lifelong cycle of illiteracy and poverty.”
The Karin Foundation has raised $150,000 of the total $500,000 needed to complete the school. Although all funds have yet to be secured, the project kicked off in February 2015, starting with the construction of a wall to secure school grounds. The school is scheduled to open in September 2016.
“At Starbucks, we go into communities around the world and open stores that make a difference and uplift the people in these neighborhoods,” said Farah. “I’m inspired by what we do. I work for a company that breaks barriers every day. You can’t ignore that, it becomes part of you. I see first-hand how Starbucks creates jobs and opportunities for people and I know how important it is for me to do the same back home in Somalia.”
Asha Farah photo by Kris Brooks Photography