Hamdi Yusuf

Extraordinary hardships haven’t stopped a 20-year-old’s quest to help Somali refugees become U.S. citizens

Hamdi Yusuf was 15 years old when her life changed forever. She was sitting in her parents’ bedroom when a bullet flew through the window and struck her in the head. She fell onto the mattress, where her younger brother found her minutes later, surrounded by blood.

She spent 16 days at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and had weeks of speech therapy before transitioning back to school with the help of a tutor. Doctors left the bullet in her head, fearing they could cause more harm if they attempted to remove it. (Today, she can still feel the bullet move around in her head.) Then, three years later, she suffered another extraordinary trauma: She was a passenger in a car involved in a serious car crash that put her in a coma for two months.

Yusuf, now 20 years old, has been through a lot and suffered greatly—anguish that led her to attempt suicide four times. But those hardships haven’t stopped her from serving others, which, in turn, has helped her regain her will to live.

“People wanted me to take time off and heal myself saying, ‘Oh my God, you’ve been through life or death,’ ” Yusuf said. “But that wasn’t going to get me anywhere in life.”

Three times a week, Yusuf teaches a class for Somali refugees preparing to take a U.S. citizenship test. They write the answers to test questions on the board, and Yusuf explains the answers when they get stuck. She got involved in the class when she was 11 but became more involved since the car crash.

“A lot of them pass the test, and when they come back, we have a party,” said Yusuf. “I fell in love with this class—at times it’s what keeps me going because I could have the worst day and then come in and teach and feel better.”

Beth Stock, the program development coordinator for the Child Development Council of Franklin County, has helped run a Head Start program at Capital Park Apartments in Columbus for 23 years and has known Yusuf and her family, Somali immigrants who moved to the U.S. in 2004, for nine.

Stock has watched Yusuf grow, first as a resident of the apartment complex and volunteer at its community center, and now as a paid employee who teaches the weekly U.S. citizenship class. Yusuf has helped dozens of refugees pass the citizenship test and does so by being patient and explaining answers to each question that they go over. She even prints the questions in large print to help older students with poor eyesight.

“She is beyond dedicated to helping these folks pass their test,” said Stock. “I watch her in action, and I’m a better person for it.”

In the fall, Yusuf hopes to start taking classes at Columbus State Community College. She’s also writing an autobiography about her journey, recovery and mental health.

Yusuf’s friends call her “Hamdi Lucky,” a name that has stuck with her since she was shot at her apartment in 2014 and then got in the car accident in 2017. With the support of her friends and family, Yusuf says she is happy and in a good place now.

“Helping people and just changing people’s lives is the most beautiful thing you can do,” said Yusuf. “Knowing that God looks at my heart and my intentions and is always there to reward me is what keeps me going.”