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Somali Bantu refugees celebrate Mothers Day

ITEM PHOTO / OWEN O’ROURKE Madina Hassan and baby Mohamed during the Lynn refugee's celebration of first Mothers Day on Lynn Common.
LYNN-Sitting on brightly colored blankets in the middle of Lynn Common, roughly a dozen Somali Bantu women and their children sat huddled together, pondering what motherhood means on their very first Mothers Day in America.

Having immigrated to the United States in an attempt to escape a war torn Somalia, the women have quickly adapted to their new surroundings and are eager to learn the customs of their new country, especially Mothers Day.

So with the help of some student volunteers from Boston College, and a few teachers, a party was quickly assembled on the common, complete with colorful cupcakes, traditional Somali foods such as Samosas, face painting, and lots and lots of bubbles.

Co-hosted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Boston’s North Star Program and Lynn’s Parent-Child Home Program, the celebration was designed to welcome the women into their new and unfamiliar western culture.

“I’m pretty amazed everyday by the strength of these women, and this is a celebration to honor that,” said Carla Schultz, program manager for North Star. “They all came here with such limited western culture and they have made such huge gains.”

Their transition was molded with the help of several community organizations and their literacy teacher Nancy Sullivan from North Star.

A former public school teacher, Sullivan has taught classes at North Star since IRC founded the program in 2002.

The program, which the Somali Bantu women and their children attend four days a week, is geared toward strengthening refugee families through English language training, cultural orientation for mothers, and child development for their pre-school age children.

Refugee Amina Abdi said she relocated to Lynn in 2004 with her husband and five children.

Since then, Abdi said she has struggled with overcoming a world of differences between her native Somalia and the U.S., and is learning to read and write for the first time.

ITEM PHOTO / OWEN O’ROURKE Amina Abdi tries and wins the sack race during Lynn refugee's celebration of first Mother's Day on Lynn Common today.

“I used to work (in Somalia) but I don’t here,” she said with the help of translator Kaltun Guled. “My husband works, and I want to work, but I don’t know enough English so I can’t.”

Abdi said she and the other women miss their relatives back home in Somalia, and those who are still in Kenya at refugee camps.

Guled, a child development teacher who has worked with Abdi and the other women since their arrival in Lynn, said while the women are pleased to be in the U.S., they dream of returning home to their native land.

“The houses are so expensive here, and they are all on welfare even though they want to work, but they don’t have the skills to do so, so it’s very difficult for them to be here,” she said. “They all say that they want to go home when their country is better, but they know it’s a good opportunity for their children to be here, and they probably won’t leave.”

For now, Abdi said she is looking forward to the official Mother’s Day on Sunday, when she can relax, put her feet up, and take the day off.

“My children are going to prepare the food, and I’m going to watch TV,” she quipped.

Since 1979, IRC in Boston has welcomed 13,000 refugees from over 40 countries, helping them adjust to living and working in the greater Boston area.

Lynda Whitney, resource developer for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said the refugee mothers have made incredible progress creating new lives in Lynn since arriving from Somalia in 2006.

“The strength and perseverance that helped this group of Somali Bantu women survive persecution and violence in Somalia as well as in the refugee camps, is enabling them to learn English, become oriented to their new community, and prepare for entry into the workforce,” she said. “These women have an inherently strong sense of family and community which is apparent in their commitment to their children.”

Source: Daily Item, May 10, 2008