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Somali woman forms support group

Sunday, May 27, 2012

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When Anab Dahir went to parent-teacher conferences at St. Cloud Technical High School about a year ago, she had no idea that it would alter her life.

Dahir was attending to check her daughter’s progress. But soon after Dahir’s visit to the school, she learned that other parents in the Somali community were struggling to understand what their children’s teachers were trying to communicate.

So Dahir decided to act as an interpreter. She found herself interpreting a lot of bad news.

“When I interpreted for them, I found that their children had really low grades and when I explained to the parents, the parents would almost start to cry. They would say, ‘Every day I bring my child to school, how does this happen?’ ” Dahir said. “The parents told me, you know what? We need help.’ ”

In her willingness to help, Dahir had inadvertently stumbled upon a major communication gap both inside and outside the Somali circles. That’s when she came up with the idea for Central Minnesota Somali Women Support, an organization geared toward working with female immigrants to foster cultural integration.

The group had an open house Saturday at the St. Cloud Library to introduce itself to the community.

Based in St. Cloud, Central Minnesota Somali Women Support aims to provide Somali and other immigrant women with the resources to become self-sufficient. While there are other groups in the area with similar ideologies, Dahir and the others gathered Saturday stressed the importance of a group that focuses specifically on women.

“These ladies have decided to take control of their own destinies and of their sisters in the community,” said Jamal Diin Omar of the organization C.A.R.E.S. “It’s important as organizations that we support each other ... we all have the same goals, we all want to succeed.”

“Today is a day that they wanted to say, ‘We’re here, we want to help the community,’ ” Yusuf Ahmed of the African Development Center in Willmar said. “They want to help, just to show them what to do or where to go. They want to integrate them into the mainstream society in America. They are going to be a lot of help to the community.”

Of those gathered Saturday, the crowd had a solid mix of people from the local Somali community, the broader St. Cloud community and from other organizations. Speakers spoke in both English and Somali if they could or had their words translated. The crowd spanned the spectrum on age, race and gender.

“I’m grateful that this many people came here today,” Dahir said. “ ... For me, it’s very important (that all the organizations) work together. I told them I want to work with you, to help each other ... I am open to working with others.”

While the group is in its infancy – it’s actually still in the process of earning its nonprofit, exempt status – if the feelings of those gathered Saturday are any indication, the future for the group is bright. Dahir said she hopes that it’s allowed to shine sooner rather than later.

“We need this,” she said. “We need more organizations like this because we have a lot of immigrants coming in this country.”


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