From refugee camp to cap and gown

LEWISTON — When Shobow Saban's name was called last week, he walked across the stage in his blue cap and gown, flashing a smile that lit up his face.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Shobow Saban marches during his graduation from Lewiston High School Friday, June 3, at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Shobow Saban stands with his mother, Bilow Farah, a few days before his graduation from Lewiston High School earlier this month.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Abdi Abdi takes a photo of Shobow Saban during the Lewiston High School graduation June 3 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Abdi said the two have been friends since 2005.

The first in his family to graduate from high school, Saban, 18, is proud. “I'm really, really happy,” he said.

His road to graduation at Lewiston High School was not an easy one.

Born in war-torn Somalia, he grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp where he watched his father die because of inadequate medical care. In 2006, he immigrated to the United States with his mother and five brothers, living in an Atlanta neighborhood surrounded by drug users.

Life got better, Saban said, when his family moved to Lewiston and he became part of the Lewiston Middle School soccer team.

“A lot of doors opened for me because of soccer,” he said.

Saban is a Bantu, a group that had little access to schools. He was a baby when his family fled Somalia. His family has told him what it was like.

His grandfather, father and uncles had a good life there. His grandfather owned property, a farm, animals, a car. Then the war came.

“One day there was a guy with a gun," Saban said. "My grandfather was a brave man. He told the guy he should leave. The guy holding the gun said, 'Don't talk to me like that or I'll shoot you.' They argued.”

The trespasser shot and killed his grandfather, Saban said. “Everything changed." They were robbed of their possessions. Terrified, they fled to Kenya.

The refugee camps weren't easy, but Saban got some schooling and learned English.

But that didn't help much in Atlanta, where the family lived for five months.

“I could speak English, but their English was different,” Saban said. The southern accent is different than the northern. I couldn't understand a word they were saying."

At his Georgia school, they didn't like soccer. They made fun of his accent. “I was afraid to ask questions,” he said.

His mother, Bilow Farah, got a call from a friend in Lewiston recommending that she move here. They came in December 2006, and were introduced to winter.

At first, they didn't have jackets and boots.

“I was astonished,” Saban said of the cold and snow. “What is this? Why am I shaking?”

“Now we live with it,” his mother said through an interpreter.

He enrolled in the middle school.

“I met a lot of friends," he said. "I started playing soccer in the eighth grade. My best friend, Johnny McDonough, recruited me. Because of Johnny, I got to know a lot of people.”

Initially, he was placed in English language learning classes. They were too easy. He asked for more challenging classes and because he did well on an exam, he was mainstreamed.

When he got to high school, he didn't like it at first. It was big and scary, he said.

High school improved when he made the soccer team.

Many people helped him, he said, his teachers, soccer coaches and guidance counselor Debra Cloutier-Baggs. “She helped me not only academically but socially.”

His mother encouraged him.

“She was always telling me, 'Knowledge is power. If you don't have knowledge, you won't succeed in life,'” Saban said.

Because English wasn't his first language, he worked hard at reading comprehension. He read all the time. If he didn't understand something, he stayed after school to ask questions. He often did homework until midnight, and got up at 6 a.m. to help his mother get his five younger brothers to school.

“Being the oldest and you don't have a father, everything's on you,” he said.

Saban has been accepted at four colleges, including Assumption in Worcester, Mass., and Husson in Bangor.

Which one he attends “comes down to money,” he said.

He plans a career in health care.

“Every time I walk in a hospital, I remember my father dying,” he said. “I want to become a physician's assistant.”

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Lori StHilaire's picture

Let us not forget

Althrough its a wonderful story about Shobow, lets not forget his mom is the woman that ran over a child on school property last year. I understand they have faced struggles, but Bilow, the mom, has also caused struggles in this community due to her actions. It is a wonderful story but lets not forget the rest of the community. Luckily the child has recovered from her injuries, but has faced many challenges over the past year. We should celebrate this child graduating, as it could of been a different story had she been killed by this driver.

Steve  Dosh's picture

From refugee camp to cap and gown

Everyone New , 5 pm Sunday HST •
Handsome lad ? 
Here's an other Somali success story you can see , look at , and admire . i believe she is married to a bloke by the name of David Bowie ( the singer ) and they have several children yet i could be wrong :)
/s, Dr. Dosh and ohana . " O'hana means family and family means never being left alone. .or forgotten " - Lilo
btw - nice photos , too , Russ ? †hanks Bonnie . . ..

Kim Berry's picture

What I saw.....

.......... was three different stories about Somalies graduating from Lewiston. I will go ahead and read back, and see if there were any other students featured as graduates from Lewiston.

Kim Berry's picture

ok found it....


Congratulations to this young

Congratulations to this young man for his accomplishment. However, I must ask why the SunJournal focused on this person. I would bet that many of this year's graduates were the first in their families. I would also bet that many are going on to promising careers. And yet, the media focuses on one individual whose story, although a positive accomplishment, is not new nor newsworthy. I, for one, am tired of seeing such one-sided reporting.

Ron Hubbard's picture

I agree

Look at the whole paper.Not 1 story about a non Somali grad who's parents paid the taxes for the Somali kids to even go to school...I am so glad I left that city.....

Ron Hubbard's picture

Hey stupid....

I only left that dump of a city Lewiston not the country....More people feel the way I do they just don't dare to admit it...

 's picture

Lewiston's gain is Gorham's loss.

Lewiston's gain is Gorham's loss.

Ron Hubbard's picture

Your an IDIOT.....

You are right where you belong...I have bettered myself by leaving that SHITHOLE...You stay right up there with your crackheads and welfare sucking Somali's....

 's picture

Poor guy.

All angry and hateful. Must be rough to live that way.

Ron Hubbard's picture

I am not angry at all....

I am not a coward like most people.I will say what I feel.You don't like it well to bad I don't kiss up to no one.All you sheep up there want to believe the Somali's have helped your community then your a bunch of idiots.They have done nothing but suck off the welfare and turn Lewiston into a big dump.So keep believing it is good to have them in your community and I will live in a CLEAN and friendly community....

 's picture

if lewiston is such a dump,

if lewiston is such a dump, then why were the somalis sent there and not to some other better maine community? because lewiston has always taken one for the team when it comes to the poor and immigrant populations.

Ron Hubbard's picture

Lewiston is a dump....

Lewiston is the biggest dump in the state of Maine.It is filled with crackheads and Somali's.Ask anyone who does not live in that dump and they ALL say the samething"That place is a SHITHOLE"

Sandra Coulombe's picture

This young man is an example

This young man is an example of what you can do when you set your mind to over coming obstacles. Too many natural born American youth waste the opportunities afford them because they are raised to believe being a minority and poor they have none. Truth is they have the same ones this young man had. The difference is this young man Worked to make those opportunities work for him.

Congratulations on a job well done Saban and I wish you continued success in all you set out to achieve in life! I hope your story will be an inspiration to other young people in our community with obstacles to over come.


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