As a Somali refugee. Yasmin faced many obstacles in pursuit of her photography education. By connecting to a community of creators, she found inspiration, support, and developed the skills to start her own photography business.
Yasmin Abdi’s story as a photographer begins at the moment when most people would find themselves giving up. As a non-citizen Somali refugee living in Saudi Arabia with her family, Yaz (as her family calls her) wasn’t afforded the same opportunities as many women her age. She wasn’t able to continue her education after high school, and as the oldest daughter in a family of eight, her time was considered more useful at home helping her five younger sisters than pursuing her own schooling.
After finding a few talented photographers online, Yaz began following their work, identifying her own love of photography and a passion for capturing emotional memories in a creative way. Yaz said it was this time in her life when she discovered the opportunities and valuable tools available on the internet and something clicked. At this juncture in her young life, Yaz made the powerful decision to build a better future, realizing her dreams with the help of a global community of creatives.
Self-reliance is a major theme in Yaz’s student story. Committing to learning anything takes perseverance - Yaz was so determined that even the lack of basic equipment, like a camera, or the inconvenience created by the language barrier wasn't enough to slow her down. She looks back on this time as the moment when she said to herself, “Okay, I’m deciding to learn anything and everything I can.”
At this juncture, Yaz discovered CreativeLive and started taking her photography education seriously. She realized,“I didn't even have a camera but I knew this is something I wanted to do.”
Using Google translate to absorb anything she could use online, Yaz continued her photography education while saving up for her first DSLR. The language barrier was frustrating.“It was so hard because there were a lot of times when I saw something and just wanted to take a picture so bad! I even knew the right settings and angles to take it, but I just couldn’t do it.”
Yaz finally purchased her first camera, a Canon Rebel T2i, in late 2011. By sheer serendipity, this was around the same time that she began her immigration application for the United States.
Always striving for opportunity, Yaz has a curious sensibility that has allowed her to dream big and always trust in her ability figure things out. She remembers her arrival on the East Coast in late 2012 as a challenge because, as Yaz admits, “my English wasn’t perfect and I was so afraid to try and talk to people.” Immigrating with just one family member - her older brother - meant that Yaz had no real network of family or friends to rely on.
Learning from her helped me start my business, I'm now able to support my sister.”
Yaz confronted this challenge by fully committing to her dream of becoming a successful photographer in her adopted country. With plenty of reasons to doubt, Yaz never doubted in herself and continued to find creative solutions to any obstacle she encountered. “I knew I had to learn English,” Yaz says, “to become more professional and to start and grow my business, so I started to learn the language from Netflix.” Admittedly, Yaz was a fan of the police drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - a show that immersed her in American slang and challenged her comprehension with its diverse, fast-talking cast. She says “It was a really fun way to prepare me and I learned a lot!”
After a year of assimilation and building up her English skills, Yaz and her brother moved to the west coast where she Yaz took on the latest hurdle and established her business after settling in Sacramento. Turning to her favorite classes from Jasmine Star - an instructor who, Yaz said “has had a huge influence on my life. Learning from her has helped me to start my own photography business, and now I’m able to support my sister who goes to dental school.”
After re-grouping, Yaz began to focus on expanding her network and gain momentum. Yaz knew she should begin engaging with her own community first, saying “One day I decided to go get my cards and brochures together and just to go to the mall where I could hand out my information to anyone that would take them.” She adds - “I would talk to everyone to introduce myself, that I’m Somali and tell them about my story to make sure they knew about my business and that I was just starting out.”
One day Yaz decided to take things a step further and thought to contact the event organizers at her community Mosque to ask if she could donate her time as an event photographer. She estimated that if there were almost 1,000 people attending an event and she could meet just ten people, it would be good exposure. At the time, no one knew her, who she was or what she could do. Yaz realized she was afraid, but determined to market herself, work hard, and make good on the those opportunities that she didn’t always have.
“I just want to work hard, for myself and my family,” Yaz realized.
After understanding Yaz’s story, it’s clear that her guiding principle might be the belief that anything really is possible with enough attention, energy, action and discipline. After years of hard work and foresight, Yaz has become a successful business owner, the first female to do so in her family - despite her less than favorable odds. Her incredible story serves as an amazing example to all girls facing similar challenges. We celebrate her story and success, and we are so proud to share stories like hers with our community.