When Qorsho first approached me about being a mentor for a photo narrative project, I was ecstatic to begin my role as a mentor. The opportunity to utilize the skills I had learned throughout my life was presenting itself in the most beautiful way: through mentorship and empowerment of young Somali girls. I knew there was a scarce amount of female Somali photographers therefore my participation in this opportunity was essential. My art reflects Somalinimo (Somali identity) in its many forms as well as the utmost need for Somali representation. My art is the most sincere way to give back to my community. The center of my whole work is constructing space for the Somali narrative for Somali people, by Somali people.

As a visual diasporic artist, I’m in a constant battle of constructing space and being a part of UDDA allowed the organic creation of this mentorship. I was given the wonderful role of being a mentor to two beautiful, intelligent and creative girls who would morph into community artists. This honor gave me the unique opportunity to mentor the girls with photography, community engagement and self-confidence. Being a photographer is my passion and being able to share it with the community artists revived my spirit. It gave me hope that the community artists can fix the fractured representation of Somalis by capturing trailblazers who embody Somali excellence. Their ability to capture the brilliance of the participants reaffirms the Somali identity and represents the goal of the project: storytelling as a way to express the struggles and triumph of young Somali-Americans. They proved to be quick learners and surprised me with their aptitude for learning new techniques. Soon enough, I became their model instead of their mentor as they showed mastery in capturing vibrant pictures and isolating the main subject from the outside world.

My purpose in this project transcended my role as a mentor; I became the girls’ big sister and confidante. We worked through their struggles as photographers, young girls, Somalis, etc. I guided them along through the workshop and continue to keep in touch with them. My role as a mentor for UDDA is continuous. I am heavily involved in all of their post-workshop editing sessions. I am able to provide instant feedback on their photo submissions through Dropbox and give redirections if necessary. I have an intense investment in their success and want to see them flourish as photographers. I am honored to be given the privilege of being a mentor to these girls who have gone above and beyond as community artists.

I am continuing my work as a visual storyteller in Toronto and have branched into new projects such as @theartisticciyaals, a community of Somali artists sharing their work on Instagram, as well as selling my art merchandise online.