The hardest thing 23-year-old Ibrahim Moustapher has ever gone through, he says, was losing his grandmother, who raised him. Shortly after she died, he moved from his home in Chigamba Village, Malawi, in Southeast Africa, to go to Hebron Academy in Maine. Ibra was able to do this thanks to a Go! Malawi scholarship. It’s how he found his way to Thomas College, too. Ibra is the first person in his whole village community to graduate from high school and college.
Ibra grew up in a very small, family oriented community. “Everyone knows each other, and I am pretty sure I know the names of everyone in the town,” he said. “I spent most of my younger days with my grandmother, who played a critical role in my life. She was everything to me. She always told me that although we were poor, we were rich in love.”
Ibra says that he loved growing up in a village. “Village life is unrushed, not hectic like in the cities,” he said. “Sharing a deep history and strong traditions, placing a huge importance on family and customs are the most important lessons I grew up by.”
The weather where he grew up is so hot that most people get up early to do laundry and other chores to avoid the heat.
“There is no doubt this community shaped who I am as a person.”
When Ibra was 15 years old, he got the chance to move to the United States to attend high school. He remembers when Bill Flynn and Janet Littlefield, the founders of Go! Malawi, came from Maine to Malawi and told him the good news.
“They noticed that I worked really hard; they said they were looking to help kids like me, and that they wanted to help me,” said Ibra.
“One day, Janet picked me up and started driving to the U.S. Embassy. She told me we were going to get a visa. I was going to the U.S. to Hebron Academy on a scholarship,” he said. “I asked again if it was true. I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing.”
When Ibra first came to the United States, he was grieving the loss of his grandmother and learning how to adapt to a new culture, home, and language.
“I was able to overcome my homesickness by remembering what my grandmother had always told me. She said she was old and that she wouldn’t be around forever. ‘You’re going to be by yourself at some point, and you will be OK,’” said Ibra.
After attending Hebron Academy for a few years and playing soccer, Ibra looked for the next step. He found Thomas College.
“I’m grateful to be here in the United States, and grateful to be here at Thomas,” he said. “It was the perfect place for me because I wouldn’t have done well with a bigger school. My community in Southeast Africa is small. Hebron Academy is small. At Thomas, the small community made it an easier transition.”
Ibra said he loved playing soccer at Thomas, and that it made college life easier.
“I don’t think I could have survived without soccer,” he said. “I met all my best friends through soccer. They have become my family away from home.”
Attending college was an academic struggle for Ibra at first. The language was still a barrier, and the workload was new. Luckily, his professor John Majewski was a huge help in this area.
“He was proud of me every time I wrote a good paper and encouraged me to work hard.”
Ibra said his mentor on and off the field was his soccer coach Chris Parsons.
Ibra hasn’t been back home to Malawi since he left more than six years ago, but he plans to attend law school after graduating from Thomas this month so he can go back to help his village community.
“Where I’m from is a very poor area. I want to do something about it and help my community. I think law is the first step. I think the place is poor because of the government, and my community doesn’t know how to protect itself. The laws are broken, and if I know something about it and go back, I can help change some of the policies and make the whole country better. I feel like I need to be a lawyer in order to do that.”
Ibra says his proudest moment in life is attending college.
“As a kid growing up in a small village, I have seen so many people fail to go to college,” said Ibra. “It felt like everyone who tried to go to college was destined to fail; so when I made it here, it was like a dream.”
Ibra graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science on May 12.
*This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2018 Thomas Magazine.