After a student’s death in January, UMN student group aims to raise funds for a well in Somalia

Students Devoted to Marginalized Communities launched a campaign to raise money for a well to honor Zahra Mohamed, the president of the group, who died in January.


Photo Courtesy Aliya Mohamed

Zahra Mohamed participates in a voters event going door to door to encourage people to vote.

by Farrah Mina

To honor the late president of Students Devoted to Marginalized Communities, the University of Minnesota student group launched a fundraising campaign earlier this month to build a water well in Somalia in Zahra Mohamed’s name.

Mohamed, who died in January after being struck by a car, founded the student group in the fall of 2018. Her passion for community service and development propelled her to create the student group with a mission to serve minority communities.

“Since Zahra was passionate about development, especially in East Africa … we all thought that a well was the best way to honor her,” said Hibo Wehelie, a friend of Mohamed’s and an SDMC board member.

SDMC plans to host a basketball tournament to raise funds to contribute to the building of the well, Wehelie said. It is also taking individual contributions online via a donation link, which is shared on SDMC’s social media platforms. The group hopes to raise the $3,000 necessary for the well.

In order to build the well, the student group is working with the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa, an organization Mohamed was volunteering with.

The construction of the well will also correspond to a concept in Islam called sadaqah jariyah, or ongoing charity, which is believed to benefit the deceased after death 

According to her younger sister, Aliya Mohamed, Zahra Mohamed was a sophomore majoring in global studies and geography with minors in African-American studies and environmental studies.

“Her first year of college, she used to be home always late,” Aliya Mohamed said, noting it often put her in trouble with their mother. “She was interested in the whole campus⁠ — everything going on on the campus. She used to go to all the events.”

Along with founding SDMC, Zahra Mohamed, who would often insist on being called “Zahro,” was an active member of the Muslim Students Association, Students for Justice in Palestine and Commuter Connection, said Hanan Farah, one of Zahra’s closest friends. Farah was with Zahra at the time of the accident and sustained severe injuries.

Aliya Mohamed recalled hearing her sister dream about working for the United Nations several times.

“Her interest in global social justice was inspiring,” Farah said in an email. “She had a way to divert energy towards all the tragedies that are constantly popping up while remaining steadfast in her pursuit to eradicate the constant inequities/injustices around her.”

Farah and Zahra Mohamed met three years ago as volunteers for an after-school homework help program. When Zahra Mohamed was looking at colleges, Farah gave her her first tour at the University.

“I remember we were walking around a building on the Saint Paul campus and we ran into a family social science counselor…” Farah said. This spurred a 30-minute conversation between Zahra Mohamed and the counselor about a shared passion for serving low-income communities.

Not long after, Zahra Mohamed would help her own sister navigate her way around campus. “I’m the more reserved type,” Aliya Mohamed said. “She introduced me to everyone … it’s a huge campus, so I didn’t know anything.”

“Zahra was the kind of person who has always been a fighter, she was so tough and bold, an activist through and through,” Farah said in the email. “She had a strong set of morals and she let her values guide her and once she was on a course it would be impossible to derail her. … She was magnetic and witty, funny, compassionate, and thoughtful.”

Since its founding almost one year ago, SDMC has hosted several events, including a voter registration event in Cedar-Riverside and a donation drive at Coffman Union.

“This well that we are attempting to construct in her honor, will serve as a symbolic aggregate of her work,” Farah said in her email.