From Somalia to a double degree
Ahmed Sofe is proof that anything is possible.
Mr Sofe was born in Somalia in 1985. His father was killed in the civil war when he was four.
Following that, his pregnant mother moved Ahmed and his three younger brothers to Ethiopia.
‘‘We moved to Ethiopia because there was no peace, there was a war going on in Somalia, so it was not safe for us to stay there,’’ he said.
‘‘ Life’s quite difficult [ in Somalia and Ethiopia]. People have difficulty to meet basic necessities, let alone the stuff like work or education – those are out of the equation.
‘‘People are struggling to get food, water and clean facilities.’’
In 1999, the Sofes immigrated to New Zealand, hoping for a better life, and for medical help for Mrs Sofe.
‘‘She has seven gun wounds on her leg. People in the UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] helped to find a place where she could get treatment and we can get a future.’’
New Zealand was the first country to respond.
‘‘The thing that went through in my head was, ‘ Oh fantastic, I’ll find some sort of education there.’ It was sort of a fantasy world. ‘It’s going to be fantastic, life will be good, there will be lots of entertainment and I can basically pursue any dreams I have. I won’t worry for food and health and education or for safety.’’’
Mr Sofe said New Zealand had lived up to his expectations.
‘‘ I’m very grateful to the country: they offered us a great opportunity that we wouldn’t have got in Ethiopia.
‘‘And every day when I wake up, that’s what drives me.
‘‘Looking back where I’m from, there are people like me who did not have the opportunity to come to a country like here, so I should be working hard, taking the opportunities that come.’’
After moving to Wellington, Mr Sofe was enrolled at Wellington High School. It was a difficult first year, he said, because he spoke little English.
‘‘I was like a deaf person sitting in class. I was just doing the formalities of being there.’’
By the next year, his year 11, things turned around.
After high school, he went on to university at Massey, despite suggestions it would be too hard.
‘‘I had people saying, ‘ University’s going to be difficult for you, so it’s not ideal that you should go’.
‘‘But because I had that strong drive I said, ‘ Hey, you have an opportunity that not everyone gets’.’’
As in high school, his first year was difficult.
‘‘In terms of my academic background, I wasn’t quite comfortable, but I had that drive.
‘‘Once I came back for second year, life changed again. My first semester I got four As, so that was fantastic.
‘‘ From there it sort of snowballed, it rolled and I haven’t seen anything that’s stopped me yet.’’
Mr Sofe completed his bachelor of accountancy in 2007 with an A average, and his bachelor of business studies, with honours in accounting, in 2009. He is now a chartered accountant for Ernst & Young.
He said his mother was excited by his successes.
‘‘ The thing that excites her mainly is if I hadn’t set up this example it would’ve affected [my brothers].’’
One brother has become an accountant in commercial law, another is a carpenter, one is at university and the youngest is finishing high school.
Mr Sofe is heavily involved in the Somalian community in Wellington, and helped organise the recent Celebrate Somalia and Save Lives.
The event, which included food, culture, live music, dance, art and keynote speakers, was an effort to reach out to less fortunate Somalis in New Zealand and in Somalia. It has been a huge jump for a man who 12 years ago did not know what an accountant was.
‘‘ Sometimes I say it’s like coming from a different world.
‘‘I’m pretty lucky, and I’m pretty grateful to New Zealand and what has been provided to me.’’
High achiever: Ahmed Sofe has grabbed every opportunity life has given him.