Triumphant Tale

Feb. 23-March 1,2006
Triumphant Tale
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Northside CYO Social Worker Thrives in Syracuse

They come to the U.S. out of desperation. Whether they are spurred by civil strife, poverty, starvation or persecution, they all have but one goal: a better life. Once they arrive, a myriad of fates spread out before them. Some fall through the cracks in the system; some are satisfied just to eke out an existence free from the daily fear of mortar shells and wondering where their next meal will come from.

But some thrive and Marian Gedow is one of them. Five years ago, the native of Somalia stepped off an airplane at Hancock International Airport and stepped into an entirely new world. Now, she owns a home in Liverpool and her two sons are in universities studying to be doctors.

Gedow went from being a case herself to become a case manager for other refugees from war-ravaged Somalia. She numbers two Somali dialects, both Bantu and Benadir, among the many languages she has at her disposal. Her first case manager when she arrived in Syracuse was her current boss Kip Hargrave, the director of the Refugee Resettlement Program for Catholic Charities. Hargrave said that he was immediately impressed with Gedow’s spirit, her determination to remain positive regarding life in a strange land.

“She was a good sport. When things didn’t work out, she dealt with it,” Hargrave said, adding that she displayed independence and a positive outlook from her first days stateside. One advantage Gedow arrived armed with was an education, which is not something most Somali women are privy to. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Somalia National University before studying finance in Rome at La Sapienza di Roma from 1985 to 1988. She then returned to the Somalia National University to complete her master’s in finance.

“I was lucky. I was one of the girls who got an education,” she said. Gedow grew up in the rural town of Afgoi in the district of Lower Shabele, and, upon completing her master’s she returned there. But her promising future was abruptly interrupted when the Somali civil war broke out. In 1991, the United Somali Congress arose under the leadership of Mohammed Farah Aidid and ousted the military government, which had been under the direction of Mohamed Siad Barre since the late 1960s.

The civil war tore apart Gedow’s family. With her two sons, Abbirahman and Liban Mohamed, Gedow fled to the Pakistani capital Islamabad, one of the only countries that would accept her. Meanwhile, her husband, Mohammad Ibrahim, who is a dermatologist, escaped to neighboring Kenya, although the two were reunited recently. In Pakistan, she developed her early techniques as a social worker, representing the Somali refugee community at the United Nations office. After some years, she returned to Somalia and worked with the Italian Neo-Government Organizations on behalf of her people before finally moving to the U.S.

Now, with five years in Central New York under her belt, Gedow finds her work with Catholic Charities rewarding but exhausting. She said that she often finds that she overextends herself in her efforts to help the influx of Somalis that have arrived over the past decade. When the federal government warned Catholic Charities that it should expect a significant refugee contingent from Somalia, the Refugee Resettlement Program made it a point to hire someone with language skills pertaining to that country’s native tongues and Gedow was a perfect fit for the position. When she fled her homeland, Gedow wanted to be certain of two things for her young family: that they would be safe and that her children might receive an education.

After being home schooled, her sons graduated from Fowler High School in Syracuse with advanced Regents diplomas. Now, Abbirahman and Liban Mohamed study biology at Le Moyne College and Syracuse University respectively. They both intend to follow in their father’s footsteps in the medical profession. She also has two daughters, Aziza and Ayan Mohamed, both of whom attend school in the Liverpool school district.

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