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Somali community strengthening ties
Somali community strengthening ties | .section_image {width: 350px;}

Rasheed Abdi (left), Mohamed Farah (center) and Ashir Ali (right) help ensure the Somali Community Services runs smoothly. (Joseph Lindberg/Daily News)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Tucked behind Pawn Stars on Central Avenue, a nondescript metal door leads to a room sparsely furnished with a few tables, a pair of Somali and American flags carefully intertwined and a small collection of people waiting to be helped.

Somali Community Services Inc., a non-profit offshoot of the Faribault Welcome Center, is open for business.

Like the Somali American Faribault Education program, it provides translation services and help managing the myriad of immigration, employment and social security forms. But unlike other service organizations in Faribault, SCS provides a crucial cultural service as well — it can now  perform Islamic marriages that are recognized by the county.

In years past, Faribault’s Somali residents — the vast majority of whom practice Islam — traveled to Minneapolis or even neighboring states to obtain valid marriage certificates.

The service keeps Somalis in Faribault and strengthens the cultural ties Somali residents in Faribault have with the area, said Ashir Ali, president of SCS.

“It has been a tough few months since the [Welcome Center] closed down,” he said. “But having this service allows us to become more visible in the community.”

The organization is funded through local donations, and has been struggling since the city stopped funding the Welcome Center, Ali said.

The cultural aspect of SCS is its strength. It provides traditional structure for the area’s Somali community, including an elder who can help families work through disputes.

This elder is essential for Somali residents and especially immigrants, who for the first time are on their own facing an entirely new culture and set of challenges, Ali said.

“We have en entire population who are confused, and having an elder to lean on and trust is a great help,” Ali said.

The elder is officially known as Faribault’s Islamic Counselor — and he performs the marriages.

“We now have all the paperwork to make [marriages] official, and that is very important,” said Rasheed Abdi through an interpreter. He is Faribault’s Islamic counselor, elder and executive director of SCS.

Through its cultural ties, SCS aims to become an integral part of Faribault’s community, and not just for the Somali population. Becoming part of Faribault’s fabric is important to SCS.

“You see a very strong senior and [Latino] population,” said Mohamed Farah, a volunteer with SCS. “They have their traditions in the community, and we want to build ours.”

Farah is also a soccer coach, and helps with other initiatives SCS might have. Those range from translation to community outreach to after school programs and cultural orientation.

But it’s even simpler than that. Farah provides rides to Somalis who might need to go to the grocery store or run errands.

“People need help here, even if it’s simple,” he said.

SCS currently has a small leadership team in place with an umbrella of around 10 volunteers that work at the leadership’s direction. But it is looking to expand in the future to serve as many Somalis as possible.

The amount of help the center provides ranges widely, but Ali said some days as many as 30 people show up. On average, the center serves between 10 and 15 people — but with little funding, they cannot expand their programs.

Somali Community Services has worn many hats over the years. It’s currently occupying its third location in three years, including the Welcome Center. That stresses its ability to reach clients.

“People don’t know where to come anymore,” Farah said.

Those that use SCS consider it an absolutely crucial part of their lives.

“Language is difficult, we have no where else to go,” said Ambiyo Muhomed through an interpreter. She came with eight other women for help with some forms.

“I always come here to get help.”

— Staff writer Joseph Lindberg may be reached at 333-3135