Amal hopes to inspire other refugees to succeed in their new countries.
She fled violence in Somalia.
Amal Ali, 30 years old: “Some of my patients are girls my age or younger, and when they find out I am a dentist they want to talk to me about their dreams, what they want to become, their education and their lives. And I try to support them and encourage them to continue their education. I have had older Somali men come to the practice and ask if they can bring their daughter, just so they can see me and verify that there is such a thing as a Somali dentist. That’s nice, they ask questions like what was it like to wear a hijab when I was studying, what paths to take, what they can do to increase their chances to study at the university.”
“Some see Sweden as a huge opportunity, they come here and they have a goal and no matter what happens, how many knocks they get, how many struggles, they just work themselves through it. And then we have other people who have given up, who maybe live on welfare and feel that, no matter what they do, they will never be accepted in society. And there is no bridge between those groups.
“Professionals with different backgrounds need to be that bridge to help them and show them that you can make it. It will be difficult and you will have to prove yourself ten times more than the normal Swede, but you can still make it. I would like to be that bridge and help people and say, yes, it was difficult, it wasn’t easy going through university to become a dentist, wearing the Islamic headscarf, having my religion, praying five times a day, wanting to be a decent Muslim and at the same time to be an excellent student.
“But you can do it. It’s difficult, but you can.”
“My patients give me back so much. They teach me about Somalia, or Ethiopia or Eritrea, some came from Iraq and Syria,” Amal says. "They give me a glimpse of how their lives used to be. Then you remember we have something special in common – we all came from other countries. We all had other lives before we came here.” © UNHCR/Johan Bävman
Amal is one of only a handful of dentists in Scandinavia with Somali heritage. She works in a practice in Oslo, where almost all her patients have immigrant backgrounds. © UNHCR/Johan Bävman
Amal talks to a patient at the reception desk about setting a time for a follow-up appointment. She hopes to open her own practice in Gothenburg, knowing that many Somali Swedes will come to her. © UNHCR/Johan Bävman
"It wasn’t easy going through university to become a dentist, wearing the scarf, having my religion, praying five times a day, wanting to be a decent Muslim and at the same time be an excellent student,” Amal says. "But you can do it. It’s difficult, but you can." © UNHCR/Johan Bävman
During a short break between patients, Amal takes the opportunity pray . Some people mistake her for the receptionist at first because they aren’t used to women dentists. But their attitude soon shifts, she says. "They become so respectful that you are female and you have made it. That is very common that this happens, because they have not met a Somali female dentist before – but when they do they have huge respect.” © UNHCR/Johan Bävman
"I need to do something to show that I am still Somali also – while at the same time having a Swedish identity." Amal says about her decision to work at a dental practice in Oslo, where the patients are overwhelmingly Somalis refugees. © UNHCR/Johan Bävman
Amal waits for a tram on her way home from work in downtown Oslo. Grateful for the opportunity to get an education in Sweden, she now wants to give back to her community. © UNHCR/Johan Bävman
Amal Ali is on a professional and personal journey that is taking her closer to her roots in Somalia. She moved from her home town of Gothenburg to Oslo last year, so she could work in a dental practice where the patients were overwhelmingly Somalis, many of them refugees themselves.
“When I came here I always said to myself I’d open a practice in Gothenburg one day to help ‘my people’. But before I do, it’s good if I work somewhere with a lot of Somalis.”
She talks about making “a little Somalia” in her Oslo practice, reminding her that she has a second home and “obligations to the people back home in Africa”. She is acutely aware that not all Somalis were given the chance to come to Sweden and get a free higher education. Her patients teach her about a home she can hardly remember, and sharpen her language skills. One patient always plays Somali music, explaining how Somalia was before the war and why things are the way they are today. Others come from Eritrea, Iraq and Syria, and give her glimpses of how their lives used to be. “They teach me a lot. It is then that you remember we have something special in common, we all came from other countries, we all had other lives and good careers before we came here,” Amal says.
Whenever she visits Somalia, she tries to do voluntary work as a dentist, and she has big plans for future work in the country.
“I want to give back and do something to show that I am still Somali also, while at the same time having a Swedish identity,” Amal says.
Amal loves Sweden, it is her home – she feels more Swedish than Somali. But she wants to combine both identities. “Most immigrants feel they belong to two countries or two cultures, but we have a long way to go in Sweden to embrace different cultures and embrace the diversity we have in society today.”
Written by David Crouch
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