Minnesota Law

Winter 2022

2L Samia Osman Discusses Her Relief Mission to Somalia

Osman spent her winter break fact-finding and delivering humanitarian aid to her drought-stricken native land

2L Samia Osman with the Minister of Interior, Federal Affairs & Democratisation of the Puntland State Government in Somalia, HE Mohamed Abdirahman Ahmed

In the midst of studying for finals last fall, Samia Osman, 2L stumbled across some distressing news from her native land of Somalia. Nearly 6 million people faced a mammoth humanitarian crisis stemming from a confluence of factors, including drought and flooding brought on by climate change, famine, conflict, and Covid-19.

Osman immediately started researching the crisis, feeling compelled to help. She and her friends, Khadija Ali and Sumaya Abshir, formed Unity for Humanity—a project meant to raise money for and awareness of relief efforts in Somalia. They quickly raised more than $6,000 and partnered with the Humanitarian African Relief Organization (HARO), an international NPO, to transfer the funds for use in Somalia, where 260,000 people have died recently and 800,000 children are at risk of malnutrition.

After weeks of fundraising, researching, and meeting with humanitarian groups in Minnesota, Osman flew to Somalia over the winter break to fact-find the root causes of the crisis and deliver some assistance. She spent 18 days traveling across the drought-stricken country to see conditions first-hand, meet with officials, and help distribute food, water, and other supplies to people in need.

The work rekindled memories of Osman’s experience as a 8-year-old refugee.

“I always say I’m a refugee and it’s a point of pride for me because it means I’ve overcome so much to be where I am,” Osman says. “I’ve also realized that I have somehow become removed from the hardships I’ve experienced and got accustomed to the privileges of living in my new home, whether that be my overall safety or even consistent food and clean water.

“I always say I’m a refugee and it’s a point of pride for me because it means I’ve overcome so much to be where I am. ... That's why I wanted to help in some way. I couldn’t just donate and turn away. Not when I have been in their shoes.”
Samia Osman, 2L

“That’s why I wanted to help in some way,” she says. “I couldn’t just donate and turn away. Not when I have been in their shoes.”

 Delivering Supplies, Meeting With officials

Tensions were high during the time that Osman was in Somalia, including outbreaks of violence and soldiers patrolling the streets with rifles. But she was determined to finish what she started.

Osman was based out of Bosaso, a city in northern Somalia where she has family. With HARO, she visited two nearby refugee camps and found deplorable conditions, including people living without food, water, or electricity. She also went on several seven-hour treks over dilapiated Somali roads to Garowe and Galkayo. Osman helped deliver barrels of water and food supplies to 150 families totaling about 1,000 people. Many had fled an entrenched drought that was killing their livestock—their main food source and means of trade.

Through her research and relatives’ connections, Osman secured meetings with high-level government officials. She met with the minister of interior affairs and the director of the Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management Agency to learn about the causes of crises and how the government was helping people in need. What Osman saw on her visits to the refugee camps led to heated moments when she pressed the officials on human rights concerns and where millions of dollars in humanitarian aid was going.

 “Considering that we were in the seat of economic power in Somalia and one of the two camps was a mere 30-minute drive outside the city, the living conditions were intolerable,” she says. “I wanted to know why these people were not being helped. When I asked, I wasn’t given any useful answers. Thankfully, my law school courses have taught me how to push for answers and advocate for others.”

Osman's group, Unity for Humailty, is still accepting donations to help the people of drought-ravaged Somalia. Learn more about what you can do to help. 

Osman called on experiences from her classes like law in practice, moot court, and international law—a passion of hers. “I know how to not take political answers at face value,” she says, adding that confidence from giving presentations and making oral arguments gave her strength to stand up in a society that tries to dismiss her.

Overall, Osman’s eye-opening time in Somalia made her realize how complex and nuanced her chosen career could be. But it also made her excited to experience more of it. After obtaining her J.D., she aims to pursue an LLM degree in human rights in armed conflict areas.

No matter what direction her career ultimately takes, Osman says she will always remember the lessons she learned from her time in Somalia, including how difficult humanitarian work can be. It requires patience, flexibility, communication, and adaptability to local culture and communities—even when they are your own.

“I left there exhausted, both emotionally and mentally. It was a struggle and frustrating and at times terrifying,” Osman says. “I don’t know if what we did was helpful, but when we were done giving out the food and water, all I heard were prayers and blessings from all those around us. The laughter of the children I was playing with and the smiles of the elders erased every hardship it took to get to that moment.” 

Suzy Frisch is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.