Aisha Malim already knows what she wants her life’s work to be about and this fall she got a head start. The Edina High School (EHS) senior was one of 10 metro area students to serve on U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s Congressional Student Advisory Council.
She applied to be on the council at the suggestion of a volunteer in the EHS College and Career Access Program, whom she has known for awhile. The application consisted of answering five questions – what do you bring to the table? Why choose you among other students? “They were questions that required a lot of thinking,” Aisha said. She sent it in one day before the deadline and learned a week or so later that she had been chosen.
The advisory council met every other Wednesday for two hours, beginning in late September through Nov. 2. Each year, the students select a topic on which to focus their work. This year it was immigration and refugees – areas of personal interest to Aisha and that align with her goal to pursue a career in humanitarian efforts and human rights work. She is an American-born daughter of Somali refugees who wants to shed light on the immigrant experience while at the same time try to understand her own family’s story.
“My parents don’t speak about their refugee experience,” she said. “I hear stories from my uncles. In fact over, the summer was the first time I heard the actual story of my parents’ immigration, but not from them. They have a right to not speak about it. It affected them deeply.”
The students on the advisory council each researched and created a presentation on one aspect of the chosen topic. This fall, students researched the health concerns of immigrants and refugees, xenophobia, and deportation and its effects on families (presented by a student whose father had been deported). Aisha’s focus was on fear – the kind that families face when they must uproot and flee to escape violence in their own homeland.
Ellison met with the council in person several times. “He told us about the work he has done, he explained how immigrants become citizens, and he wanted to hear what we had to say,” Aisha said. “He always took notes.”
When he was not able to be present, Aisha said Ellison’s secretary brought messages from him and work for them to do. Sometimes there were videos or guest speakers. It was one of those speakers whose story touched Aisha most. “He was the husband of a family from Mexico who had lived in family detention centers when they first came here,” she said. “I had never heard that story before and it was eye-opening.” She said his description of their dire living conditions was shocking to her. “I never expected our country to do that,” she said. “I never expected immigration to be smooth – I expected it to be rough. But not that rough.”
The culmination of the student advisory council’s work was a presentation to Ellison and other guests. Part of Aisha’s presentation was to read a poem that she wrote a year ago, describing the pain of leaving one’s home country to venture into the unknown. (Read Aisha’s poem, Somalia it's been a long time.) The Student Advisory Council also prepared a resolution that they presented to Ellison that would provide funding for an awareness campaign about immigrant rights in the U.S.
Aisha is just getting started on her humanitarian efforts. “I plan to attend college and perhaps double major in political science and journalism,” she said. “I want to study something that will help me do a lot of human rights work.” Inspired by her work with Ellison, she mentioned a possible run for congress some day or maybe finding a job with the United Nations.
For now, she offers this guidance for others: “Be tolerant. If you haven’t had an immigrant experience yourself you can’t understand how deeply it has affected a lot of people,” Aisha said. “Some people act like immigrants and refugees are here to destroy the country. In fact, they are here to escape violence.”
Students at Cornelia Elementary School came together to write letters of support and thanks for veteran in their community. The letters were delivered to Donn Latourell during his Honor Flight on Oct. 29.
Honor Flight is a non-profit organization “dedicated to providing veterans with honor and closure.” On an Honor Flight, veterans travel to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials “dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.”
On the flights, veterans are accompanied by guardians. These volunteers travel with the veterans and surprise them with a “Mail Call.” Liz Scheurer, a principal clinical research scientist by day, volunteered as Latourell’s Guardian for his Honor Flight.
As a guardian, she was charged with coordinating the “Mail Call” and was encouraged to find a personal connection. After some brainstorming, Scheurer noticed that Latourell lived close to Cornelia – only a couple blocks away, in fact. She approached Principal Lisa Masica about having students write letters, who immediately agreed. “It is such a cool way to honor someone,” she said. “It is great to make that personal connection.”
Students in Janice Laven’s fourth grade class, Kathy Powers’ fifth grade class and Kristine Maher’s special education students wrote cards and letters to Latourell. Below is a letter from Jack:
Dear, Mr Latourell,
It’s really cool to be able to write this letter to you.
I would like to thank you for everything you have done for not only me, but for the whole country. Sometimes when I go to a Twin’s game and they raise the flag during the national anthem, I think of people like you who served our country so everyone could be free.
I hope when you get to Washington, D.C. everyone welcomes you like the hero you are.
Thank you, Mr Latourell for serving our country.
Sincerely, Jack E from Cornelia Elementary
On the plane, Latourell was given more than 100 letters from kids at Cornelia, other neighbors, and members of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport fire and police departments, where his daughter, who attended Cornelia, works.
Veterans return from Washington, D.C. the same day as their departure. When they return, family and friends are waiting to give them the fanfare they deserve. “We don’t have a very big family,” said Latourell’s daughter, Linda Rasmussen, “which made the letters even more special.”
Summer break is a time that many Edina High School students spend relaxing, hanging out with friends, or going to the lake; however, senior Ben Brandt is an exception to that trend. Brandt spent two weeks of his summer in Africa with his mother and aunt, seven of those days climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
At 19,341 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain in the world– meaning that there are no other mountains surrounding it. It is also the highest point in all of Africa, making it one of the Seven Summits, the seven highest points on each continent.In order to prepare for his journey, Brandt said he ran roughly five miles every day for several months leading up to his departure. He also went to Hyland Lake Preserve, hiking the hills there in order to get himself in shape for climbing.
Brandt’s group hired four guides to assist them during their ascent of Kilimanjaro, all of whom were natives of the nearby town of Moshi. Once at the base of Kilimanjaro, Brandt began the weeklong journey on the Machame Route. This route covers about 25 miles and 14,000 vertical feet of climbing. Brandt commented on the expedition’s length: “It wasn’t that far, it was about 8-10 kilometers a day [including descent distance], which would take about 6-8 hours because it was so steep.”
Due to the high altitude of Kilimanjaro, there are many health risks involved in climbing the massive peak. One of the most dangerous issues is high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). The life-threatening condition occurs when the heart cannot pump blood as efficiently as it can at lower altitudes, leaving blood backed up in the veins. As the pressure in the veins rises due to the increased presence of blood, fluid is pushed into the air spaces in the lungs, making it harder to breathe. A member in Brandt’s group unfortunately contracted HAPE, and had to make an emergency descent down Kilimanjaro to a nearby hospital. Brandt’s aunt also got hypothermia due to the extremely frigid temperatures on the mountain.
Finally, after five days of endless climbing, Brandt and his group prepared for a final summit push. Brandt said “You start climbing at about 10pm hiking until 8am, so you hike the entire night, and get to the top at sunrise. It’s really difficult, super long. We spent maybe ten minutes at the top; we waited in line for a picture. You feel really sick from the altitude, you don’t feel great.”, said Brandt.
Kilimanjaro, as stated before, is one of the Seven Summits, and is the fourth highest. The others are Elbrus (18,513 ft.) in Europe (Russia), Aconcagua (22,902 ft.) in South America (Argentina), Everest (29,035 ft.) in Asia (Nepal/China), Denali (20,310 ft.) in North America (United States), Carstensz Pyramid (16,023 ft.) in Oceania (Indonesia), and finally Vinson (16,067 ft.) in Antarctica. During some discussion of the Seven Summits, Brandt commented “[I don’t want to climb] Everest,… maybe the one in Oceania because it’s just a little mountain. No, Kilimanjaro was pretty tough, I don’t know if I want to do something like that again.”
This story was originally published at www.edinazephyrus.com on Sept. 29, 2016.