"No-one chooses to be a refugee": Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed on When Stars Are Scattered

Published on: 14 July 2020

Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson's new graphic novel, When Stars Are Scattered, tells the incredible story of Omar's life as a child refugee fleeing Somalia with his brother.

Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson and the cover of When Stars Are ScatteredOmar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson and the cover of When Stars Are Scattered

Omar's story

Born in Somalia, I fled with my brother, Hassan, to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya at age four, and then spent the next fifteen years there. Dadaab is referred to as an "Open Prison" by the refugees living there because they’re not allowed to leave the camp.

In 2009, Hassan and I were resettled by the U.N. to Tucson, Arizona in the United States. The streets in Tucson were quiet and empty compared to life in Dadaab. It was unsettling not seeing anyone walking around outside. In 2014, I graduated from the University of Arizona. University was difficult to navigate. Everything was new, and I had never used a computer before!

I now work as a resettlement case manager at Church World Service in Pennsylvania, working with refugees to help them reach self-sufficiency in the US. I’m always motivated and encouraged by the success of those whom I’ve helped to resettle.

Whilst my story is like any other refugee’s, I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless.

I have always wanted to write a book to educate others about my experience as a refugee. I had already started drafting my story when I met Victoria. Whilst my story is like any other refugee’s, I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. In writing the book, it was important to show how I cared for my brother from a very young age. School was also very important to me. I wanted to show how hard the kids in Dadaab have to work for their education.

There are many messages I hope readers take away from this book. One is to never lose hope or faith. We always have plans, but God has a better plan for us. The second is to never abandon the ones you love most because they or you are in a bad situation, and finally, one kind action can have a huge influence in another’s life.

I hope When Stars Are Scattered helps readers to gain an understanding of how no one would ever want to leave their country unless circumstances forced them to leave. Empowering and supporting refugees is key to helping them succeed not only in the camps but also in their new communities. No one chooses to be a refugee, to leave their home, country and family. The last thing I wanted in this world was to be a refugee.

Ilustration from When Stars Are ScatteredIllustration by Victoria Jamieson

Victoria's inspiration

It was an honour to work with Omar on this book, and to adapt his story into a graphic novel. I had been volunteering with a resettlement agency in my community, and I was able to meet and hear stories from many recent refugees to the United States. As a graphic novelist, I wondered if there was a way to translate some of the stories I was hearing into a book for young readers, but I didn't know where to start. I met Omar when I was visiting his place of work and learned that he was interested in writing a story about his life. We sat down to talk about a collaboration; When Stars Are Scattered is the result.

My goal in creating this book was to remain as faithful to Omar’s memories as possible. When I drew the art, Omar and I were in constant contact (along with our colourist, Iman Geddy) to make sure the images in the book were consistent with life at the camp as Omar experienced it.

I hope readers will check out Omar's website, www.RefugeeStrong.org. He runs a non-profit organization that empowers students living in Dadaab, and is a constant advocate for those who continue living in refugee camps around the world. As Omar said, one kind action can have a huge impact on someone's life.

Ilustration from When Stars Are ScatteredIllustration by Victoria Jamieson

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