Growing up in Portland, Maine, junior Mohamed Nur said he’d regularly volunteer at his mosque or spend time tutoring kids at the local after-school center, “doing things that would make someone’s day a little easier and happier.” Now thanks to a Truman Scholarship, Nur will have the chance to deepen his interest in public service after graduating from Bowdoin.
Speaking of the role that service to others played in his upbringing, Nur reflected, “to me, that was normal, that was the everyday,” Nur said in a recent interview. This kind of behavior was, after all, what his mother, Nadifo Ayanle, modeled for him and his younger sister. Despite Ayanle working long, “crazy” hours as a housekeeper, Nur said she always had time to help people, making a particular point of reaching out to immigrants or refugees newly arrived in Portland. Nur’s parents themselves fled Somalia in 1993 for Maine to escape the civil war. Their two children were born here a few years later.If she heard that a family had just moved into the neighborhood, Nur’s mother would invite them over to dinner. If someone needed her assistance, she’d walk or drive them to appointments. “You know, the small things that can make an impact that often go unseen is what my mother has done and continues to do for people,” Nur said.
With this model of selflessness engrained in him at a young age, Nur indicates it’s difficult for him to conceive of a life that is not built around “meaningful work that helps uplift and advance the community.”
Nur, a government and Africana studies double major, has recently learned he is the recipient of a 2018 Truman Scholarship, which provides $30,000 toward graduate studies in public service, as well offers other programs, networking, and support. Nur was also, in late April, elected to president of the Bowdoin Student Government.
This year, the Truman Foundation selected 59 students from 756 applicants for its scholarship, choosing undergraduates based on their “records of leadership, public service, and academic achievement.” The US Congress established the Truman Foundation in 1975 in place of a physical monument to President Truman; its mission, according to its website, “is premised on the belief that a better future relies on attracting to public service the commitment and sound judgment of bright, outstanding Americans.”
I try to use dialogue to break down barriers and borders between people. I think when people talk to each other and get to see what the other side thinks and feels, that can be a bridge to not only understand one another but to peacefully coexist.
—Mohamed Nur ’19
After Bowdoin, Nur hopes to specialize in international security and conflict resolution, and wants to pursue both a master’s degree in international relations and a law degree. Much of his interest in peacemaking through diplomacy stems from his time, as a high school student, at the Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield, Maine. “At Seeds, I was me for the first time,” Nur said, rather than that “Somali kid, or Muslim kid,” as he was known at his high school. “I saw the strength of my voice.”
He said he’s interested in one day working for the benefit of Somalia, which he still feels is home along with the U.S., and part of his identity. “I want to use dialogue and mediation as a way to disrupt and unravel deep-seated conflicts in Somalia and in the horn of Africa,” Nur said. “Somalia has been in conflict for more than a quarter of a century. And this is ignored by the international community. There are people whose voices aren’t heard and they deserve the dignity of being heard. I want to be able to do that for them and make their issues global issues.”
The conflict in Somalia is unsparing in its victims. Last year, friends and family began telephoning Nur and his family in Maine, telling them they were suffering from a famine, with no way of getting food and medicine. Although Nur and his mother regularly sent money back home to family, Nur said he was hurt by the thought of the many others who had no such lifeline. He started fundraising, first at Bowdoin, and then branching out with the help of his network in Portland and his Somali-American friends at other colleges. Together, they managed to raise approximately $50,000, which they donated to the International Rescue Committee to help Somali famine victims.
“I have seen people who have worked so tirelessly for other people. I have seen their impact on other people’s lives, and the kind of good that can do. This is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing,” Nur said, adding that the major reason he came to Bowdoin was for its focus on serving the common good. “The idea of the ‘Common Good’ struck a chord with me, and I try to actively do that every day. And I want to do that for the rest of my life — God willing.”