In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

February 7, 2017

Mayo Nurse Uses Life as Nomad and Refugee to Inspire Others

By In the Loop

From nomad and refugee to Mayo nurse, Habibo Haji is using her life experiences to teach others.

It's been a long, lonely and sometimes dangerous road to Mayo Clinic for registered nurse Habibo Haji.

Born in Somalia, Habibo was just six months old when she was sent by her mother to live with her grandmother in a small, remote village. There, she lived in a simple, primitive hut built by her grandmother that Habibo says was nothing more than "woven rugs draped over an igloo style structure made from tree branches tied together." Cockroaches, beetles and other insect invaders routinely crawled across the hut's dirt floor at night.

Growing up, Habibo was taught to be a shepherd. By age 11, she was grazing her grandmother's sheep and goats in the grasslands of Somalia — alone — for months on end. Essentially living as a nomad, Habibo watched over the animals by day and slept under the protection of forests at night, fending off attacks by crocodiles, jackals, hyenas and more. She contracted and lived through malaria eight times along the way.

When her country's growing civil unrest eventually made it impossible to stay where they were, Habibo and her family made their way to the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, the largest camp of its kind in the world. "There are probably around 500,000 people living there," Habibo tells us. "Most have been there since 1992, when the camp opened." Reunited with her mother in Dadaab, Habibo spent the next three years living in her family's makeshift tent, helping to care for her siblings while waiting for her chance at a better life.

At age 16, Habibo was selected through what she calls "a random drawing" to move to the United States. When she arrived, she was on her own again. "I had nothing," Habibo tells us. "I couldn't even speak the language. I had no clue what I was doing." But Habibo had faced challenges before and was not about to let go of her dreams. She drew on a lifetime of lessons to adapt to her new circumstances.

"My story is a story of overcoming adversity and developing resilience through that adversity," she recently told KTTC News. And she says she "was honored" to share those stories with students at Longfellow Elementary School in Rochester. (It's something she'd love to do more of, she tells us.) Her story also is one of "being able to maintain that American Dream that we all strive to no matter where we come from, no matter what culture, race or religion that we have." That's something she told students "we can all obtain ... if we work hard enough."

For Habibo, that dream meant learning English and putting herself through nursing school. Today, she's a nurse in Mayo's Psychiatric Acute Care Program in Rochester, a place she tells us she's been happy to call home since 2008. "It's been great working for Mayo Clinic," Habibo says. "This is the longest I've ever been in one place in my entire life."

You can read more about Habibo's story and her visit to Longfellow here. She's also written a book about her time as a nomad and refugee that you can find here. Then be sure to leave us a comment below before you use the social media tools to share this story with others.

Tags: Diversity, Employee Stories, Habibo Haji, Nursing

Thanks so much for this story. Working at Mayo has opened a world view that is humbling. So many amazing people. I will be ordering Habibo’s book!


Thank you for your inspiring story and for sharing it with others of us!! I just ordered your book and am wondering if you might consider coming to Charter House to speak about your amazing experiences with our book discussion group. My email address is: marcia@marcia We would be honored to welcome you as we are reading to broaden our horizons in an effort to better understand our world! Thank you again!


Very proud of her keep going to the best
I hope you translate your book to Arabic my email

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