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First female Somali licensed drug counselor relishes new role

Friday, October 19, 2012
By Urmila Ramakrishnan

Farhia Budul is not Somali; She's American-Somali. She sports a hijab and a Twins baseball cap, and she's the first female Somali licensed alcohol and drug counselor in the state.

Budul said she relates to Somalis in the community because she understands the stigma of alcoholism in Islam.

"As a Muslim, it's a sin to drink," Budul said. "The community thinks if it is a sin, you should just stop ... but if you're an addict, it's not easy to quit.

"They don't understand there is help for it," she said.

The stigma of alcoholism and addiction in the Somali community may be the reason there are so few Somali counselors, said one of her teachers, Jonathan Lofgren, 48, professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and president of Minnesota Association of Resources of Recovery and Chemical Health.

There are 2,363 active licensed alcohol and drug counselors, said Kari Rechtzigel, executive director for the Minnesota Board of Behavioral Heath and Therapy.

Budul, who has a temporary license, is the only female of three licensed Somali drug counselors in the state, Lofgren said.

"She's walked the tightrope for repping her culture," Lofgren said.

Budul said she wants to show Somali women it is good to break Muslim gender stereotypes. She breaks stereotypes by playing sports, working, and getting higher education, she said.

Budul's family fled Somalia's civil war in 1991. Budul, 29, moved to San Diego in 1993, when she was 9 years old, from a refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya. In 1995, Budul, her mom, Makin Abdi, 66, and her sisters Halima Hansshi, 38; Kadra Hansshi, 42, and Hamdi Budul, 25, moved to St. Paul.

"They are not good memories for me," Budul said of her time in Somalia. At one point, she had asked her mom why women left their babies in the ditch and ran. Her mom responded that if the babies cried, the rebels would know where they were and come after them.

"I'm glad I survived," Budul said

Budul lives in St. Paul's Como neighborhood with her son Hassan, 7, and daughter Misky,12

She graduated in May with an associate of science degree in alcohol and drug counseling from MCTC.

Budul juggles single parenthood, two jobs and classes at Metropolitan State University for her bachelor's degree.

She counsels pregnant and post-partum women at RESOURCE's Recovery Resource Center in Minneapolis. She also is a drug counselor at American Indian Community Development Corp., also known as Hennepin County Detox

Though most clients at RRC are Native American and African-American, Budul's open mind and down-to-earth approach help her relate to everyone, said Melissa Esparza, a registered nurse at RRC.

The field isn't diverse, said Bayla McDougal, drug and alcohol counseling instructor at MCTC. The school's program has seen a slow increase in African-Americans, Hmong and Native Americans in the past few years, McDougal said.

"It is a very new field for the Somali community," McDougal said.

Urmila Ramakrishnan can be reached at 651-228-5488. Follow her at


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