Rihana Ibrahim, 21, is a Muslim refugee who overcame tremendous adversities in her home country of Somalia and in 2014, was able to resettle to Tucson, Arizona, all on her own. Afflicted with polio as a young child, Rihana lost mobility in her lower limbs and as a child in Somalia, had to use old wooden crutches, sometimes dragging herself on the ground to get by.
In her first week in the U.S., Rihana met Mia Hansen, a volunteer with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) who took the young girl under her wing, introducing her to her brother, a quadriplegic, who serves on the board of directors for Mobility International USA (MIUSA). Rihana was outfitted with a new wheelchair and began taking English lessons. Her mentors suggested that Rihana try sports, feeling it would help boost her confidence, and soon Rihana found herself playing on the University of Arizona’s wheelchair basketball team. Growing up in the war-torn country, sports was not a possibility. “Women in Somalia don’t play sports, only men play soccer,” says Rihana.
Basketball did not come easy, and a translator was brought in so Rihana could understand the coach’s comments. “At first she didn’t understand why she had to push the wheelchair so hard during practice,” remembers Mia. “There was a bit of a standoff there, because she came from a place of having to save every bit of energy in order to survive. But then, we talked to a translator about that, and he told her that she didn’t have to be afraid because she has food to eat now, and told her that her body would grow if she pushed herself.”
Rihana says her newfound resolve has everything to do with sports and the encouragement of mentors like Mia. Rihana has found her voice and says she would like to be a social worker one day. She also has a dream. “I want to speak in front of the United Nations like Malala Yousafzai about women who have dreams, who are strong, and [so women know] they can come true. I would like women to know they can have freedom.”