Firomsa Mohamed is not the average high school senior.
First of all, he grew up in Ethiopia, although it's not entirely unusual to originate from somewhere else. What makes Firomsa different is that he spent three years of his life, from ages six to nine, homeless on those streets in Ethiopia.
Tenacity, drive and an appreciation for the opportunities a quality education affords took him from arriving in the United States at age 14 not even knowing English to graduating in the top 10 percent of his class only four years later.
And he said he wouldn't change a thing because he “got a chance to go to school.”
Firomsa was born in Ethiopia 18 years ago where he lived with his grandmother. When he was six years old, his grandmother fell ill and passed away. Firomsa was suddenly thrust on to the streets as there were no child welfare programs to take care of him.
So, he had only one choice– work any odd job he could find to survive.
“You don't get jobs over there like here,” he said. “You just work on the streets.”
During this time, Firomsa had no home, no bed to call his own.
“We would sleep any place we saw,” he said, describing creating makeshift beds out of boxes, rugs and jackets. “The days were so hot... and the nights were freezing.”
This went on for three long years until he was nine years old when his uncle, also living in Ethiopia, realized his situation and brought Firomsa to live with him.
His uncle contacted Firomsa's father, who was living in the United States, and informed him of what was going on with his son.
His father immediately started the paperwork for Firomsa to move to the United States.
It took five years, during which time he lived with his uncle, but at 14, Firomsa moved in with his father, stepmother and siblings in South Sioux City.
“It was difficult for me at first to learn, especially the language,” he said.
He learned quickly, clearly, as now Firomsa will graduate May 20 in the top 10 percent of his class at South Sioux City Senior High.
“I come from a really hard time,” he said. “I'm happy now living here.”
After graduating, Firomsa plans to study to become an electrician at Iowa Central Community College. His life goal is to build hospitals and to help the homeless of Ethiopia. He has found success in America, especially considering where he was just 10 years ago, but his heart remains with those in his home country.
“The people who don't have a house or don't go to school, God help them, that's all I can say.”