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Spotlight Ibrahim Kondeh

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PLC 61 Student Spotlight: Ibrahim Kondeh

In 2013, Ibrahim Kondeh lost his father, and this set off the series of events that would eventually lead Kondeh to the University of Oklahoma.

Kondeh grew up in Sierra Leone, and after he lost his father, he was forced to join a secret society for young men, a common tradition in the culture. Due to the violence he experienced, Kondeh moved out of the country when he was just 16 to work in Guinea. Not long after, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. After two months, Kondeh was able to escape and flee to a refugee camp in Italy, witnessing extreme violence along the way. Italy was the first place he had felt safe in a long time.

“I was no longer scared for my life,” Ibrahim said. “It was the first time in a whole year or so that I had slept in a place with a roof over my head.”

His parents always dreamed of him being educated. Kondeh wanted to continue his studies once he arrived in Italy. First, however, he needed a phone to learn the Italian language and to contact his mother, who he had not spoken to since he had left Guinea. Working for five euros a day for a month, Kondeh saved up enough money to buy a smartphone and begin to learn Italian.

Even as the refugee camp was international, Kondeh realized that he did not have anyone to talk to, to truly understand his experiences as a boy from Sierra Leone. Kondeh turned to the Notes app on his phone, writing down the stories he wished he could share.

“I would start typing, just a way to talk to myself and a way to let things out. I started writing my own story and what happened. When I felt lonely, I started writing. I missed home so badly,” Kondeh said.

Not long after Kondeh had started writing, he saw a competition on a Facebook group for refugees, where anyone who had a story to tell could share. Kondeh submitted one of his stories, in the form of a poem, and he ended up winning. He received a tablet and some books, with which he was able to share his story with a larger audience, and he began volunteering with UNICEF and helping other refugees. Throughout his pursuits to help others, Kondeh kept working so he would have the opportunity to continue pursue an education. 

When applying for jobs, Kondeh stumbled across the application for the United World College (UWC) in Italy, and he knew he had to apply, despite the application being due in three days. There was only one spot available, and 11 people had applied, but when Kondeh was on his way to a job interview, he received the email: he had gotten in.

After attending UWC, Kondeh was offered a full ride to nine different colleges. He wanted to find a place where he could fully connect with other students while finding people who had similar mindsets. He knew he could do that at the University of Oklahoma once he had talked to upperclassmen and his classmates. Since being in PLC, Kondeh has found those people.

“Being a part of PLC, I get to meet people where we don’t have similar experiences but similar goals. We have that passion of changing something,” Kondeh said.

Kondeh does hold that passion of changing something. He is currently studying economics and management information systems, with plans of getting his master’s before he returns to Sierra Leone. His goal is to not only help provide safer and more accessible education back home, but also to work with non-government organizations. 

Despite everything that he has gone through, Kondeh has stayed consistent with his determination to help others and his pursuit of an education. His challenges and experiences have allowed him to keep moving forward with resilience and positivity.

“I [now] just see challenges as a process for something greater,” Kondeh said.