Fort Mills Times
Saturday, June 01, 2013
Amal Hassan watches change coming to her home country while she is thousands of miles away.
23-year-old will graduate from St. Cloud State University after this
summer with a degree in women's studies and a minor in human
The St. Cloud woman is already planning and
dreaming about the future, with a part of her heart remaining in her
native Somalia, the St. Cloud Times reported
One day, after she learns everything she can here, Hassan wants to
return to help women and children. She wants to join a growing movement
in the African country to help give voices to the two groups.
and children in our world are the most neglected in society," Hassan
said. "My passion is not to create a voice for them, but to guide them
to find their own voices."
Her work starts here. Hassan squeezes
in school, volunteer responsibilities and work into a crammed schedule.
Everything prepares her for a future in the war-torn country.
Hassan, a devout Muslim, strives to help fellow immigrants adjust to a new and often confusing American culture.
Her motto is simple.
"Think locally, act globally," Hassan said.
Hassan works as a women's advocate at Anna Marie's domestic abuse shelter and as a family visit supervisor at the YMCA.
also volunteers with the Greater St. Cloud Area Thrive coalition, which
provides access to early intervention services for immigrant and
refugee families and the children ages birth to 3. Hassan also serves on
the board of directors of the African Women's Alliance, a group
bringing together area African women.
"Amal is a very grounded and
passionate person about women's issues," said Janette Yiran, the
alliance's executive director. "She is very engaging when talking about
Hassan understands the challenges immigrants and
refugees face. She left Somalia when she was a year old. Her family
settled in Nairobi, Kenya, and was extremely poor.
She, her father and siblings moved in 2001 to Minnesota.
She was 11 years old and lived with her aunts for a month in the Twin Cities while her dad got established in St. Cloud.
to a new culture was painful and perplexing. Hitting children with a
belt is a common and accepted form of discipline in most African
countries, including Somalia, Hassan said.
of acceptable child care are confusing, said Jane Ellison, Thrive
project manager. For example, it's illegal to harm your child in the
United States, yet it's legal to spank a child. Many immigrants and
refugees worry their children will be taken away, she said.
is the Somali community representative for Thrive's access project. The
project promotes conversations across cultures. Topics include abuse,
neglect, discipline and nutrition.
Hassan's family faced questions
about the topics after moving here. The Somali people want to learn and
want to do what's best for their children, she said. It just takes time
to figure out new expectations.
"She really does have the
perspective of the Somali community and also about coming into the
country and making adjustments," Ellison said. "I appreciated the depth
and breadth of the experience she brings."
That shared experience has helped Hassan create relationships throughout communities.
career at Anna Marie's started when she had a month left at high
school. Hassan's family was long known for helping women in abusive
relationships when Anna Marie's called their house. They needed a
translator for a Somali client. The nonprofit offered to pay her $100.
She insisted it was free.
She soon started to officially work at the shelter.
the years, I wanted to build a trust-based relationship with women in
my community," Hassan said. "It's tough, but it works."
of immigrant women served at the shelter is relatively small, but there
has been an uptick, said Rita Koll, women's program coordinator. Six
immigrant women entered the shelter in 2012, compared with three in 2011
and one in 2010. Hassan is a powerful partner for the nonprofit.
are cultural taboos that prevent people to come forward," Koll said.
"The trust they put into her is a doorway for us into their lives."
Hassan hopes to start her master's degree in diplomacy. She intends on continuing her work in the community.
She prepares herself for a future making a difference in a country she hasn't been to in 22 years.
is the country where I'm from," Hassan said. "There are a lot of Somali
feminists coming out and risking their lives for empowering women. I
don't want to take a step back."