Abdul Sidow sits in his office at the Somali-Bantu Center in Sioux Falls. The center was recently relocated to South Garfield Avenue. / Dacia Idom / Argus Leader
by Jill Callison
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Abdul Sidow came to Sioux Falls intending to stay for 15 days. That was three years ago.
He didn’t leave as planned, Sidow says, because the 600-member Somali-Bantu community needed his help. Now, with the expansion of a community center and classes in immigration law, Sidow intends to help other immigrants adjust to life in Sioux Falls. Those who know him have no doubt he will succeed.
“He is one of the most selfless people I know,” says Mark Millage, president of Kilian Community College. Sidow is a full-time student there in addition to a more-than-full-time position with the Somali-Bantu Center.
“He came here to visit family, and he saw they needed help, they needed to organize and to help themselves, and that’s what’s been done,” Millage says. “When I see the list of goals in their adult literacy program, it’s all about teaching people, to empower people to achieve their goals of a better life.”
Although Sidow is only 25, it’s not the first time he’s reached out to fellow immigrants. In 2005, as a 19-year-old recently graduated from school in Vermont, Sidow founded a community association in Chelsea, Mass.
Sidow moved to the United States almost eight years ago. He estimates that the first Somali-Bantu immigrants came to Sioux Falls just a few months earlier. The earliest residents brought in a secondary migration by praising the city’s safety, education system and employment opportunities, Sidow says.
Plus, the father of two says smiling, “Every year we gain about eight new babies.”
In 2009, when Sidow traveled to Sioux Falls to visit extended family, some of the immigrants he met still faced daily struggles.
“They don’t have people who could read their mail, people who could give them rides, people who could interpret for them as they need it,” he says.
“So I say, wait a minute, is there a way that you can do something about this so their families can meet their basic needs. And then I say to myself, yes, see if you can mobilize the community and talk to them about forming an association that recruits volunteers from the Somali community outside so they can work with the families.”
When he decided to stay in Sioux Falls, Sidow took a job with John Morrell & Co., but he since has quit to focus on helping others.
That has included out-of-state trips during semester breaks at Kilian, traveling to Florida, Texas and Minneapolis to become certified in immigration law.
“The one thing that we, probably selfishly speaking, would have kept would have been the job because it pays the bills — we would have given up everything else,” Millage says. “He gave up the job and kept everything else.”
Sidow now earns a small salary from the Somali-Bantu Center. He donates much of his time, however, unwilling to close the doors at the posted 5 p.m. deadline as long as people are waiting to be helped.
“They have nowhere else to turn to get the help they want,” Sidow says. “If they have medical forms that need to be filled out and are due tomorrow or in two days, if it’s not taken care of in that particular time, the families have to worry so much about it.”
When Sidow made the decision to stay in Sioux Falls, that meant giving up daily contact with his own parents and siblings. For a time, he was homesick.
Now, however, he thinks he made the right decision, and he enjoys what he does. Plus, there are his goals for the future.
“We are hoping to see other refugees and immigrants, to help them as much as we can with housing, with ESL and learning the history and the civics of the U.S. so they are able to pass the citizenship test and become U.S. citizens,” he says.
“We are welcoming the ethnic communities as a whole with open hands. We want to make a difference in the city of Sioux Falls.”