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St. Cloud woman, refugee celebrated for her work creating spaces for conversation


By Sarah Kocher
Friday October 2, 2020
Farhiya Iman stands in front of Nori Cafe, the business she runs with her family Monday, July 22, 2019, in St. Cloud. Dave Schwarz, Dschwarz@stcloudtimes.com
Farhiya Iman stands in front of Nori Cafe, the business she runs with her family Monday, July 22, 2019, in St. Cloud. Dave Schwarz, [email protected]


ST. CLOUD — A local woman's efforts at creating space for cross-cultural conversation has earned her statewide recognition. 

Stearns County social worker Farhiya Iman has been awarded a 2020 Minnesota Department of Human Services Outstanding Refugee Award. Iman also owned Nori Cafe & Creamery, which announced its closure in August.

Iman said it was a shock to receive the award — and that an award like it exists in the first place.

"In times like this, there's nothing really celebrating refugees," she said.

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Ten refugees were honored this year. Iman was one of five who received the Civic Engagement Award. Other awardees were recognized for entrepreneurship, young leadership and "significant efforts during their first two years in the state," according to a press release. 

Minnesota's Assistant Commissioner for Children and Family Services, Nikki Farago, said Iman was chosen for her focus on facilitating relationship-building in the community. Her work instigating cross-cultural conversations is an effort to make St. Cloud stronger as a community, and that, Farago said, is wonderful.

"These are exceptional leaders in their own right — not just in the refugee community but in the state of Minnesota," Farago said of the 10 award recipients.

Much of the work for which Iman was recognized happened at Nori Cafe & Creamery, which Iman said did not survive the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I absolutely loved the cafe," Iman said. "I loved meeting new people. I loved that people felt (really) comfortable asking us questions."

She used it as an opportunity to dispel misconceptions — about Somali people, about refugees, about Muslims: "whatever they have a problem with," she said.

It was about being welcoming and non-judgemental. It was a neutral ground.

"When I tell you I answered every single question people asked me, I did," she said.

Though the cafe is gone, she will continue partnering with Unite Cloud for cultural and language classes that were occurring at the cafe, Iman said. During these sessions, people could learn conversational phrases in Somali, try Somali food and learn about Somali culture.

"That's something I can still continue to do," Iman said.

Stearns County Family and Children Services Division Director Brenda Mahoney said through her work, Iman does significant community outreach and has been helpful in educating the department in different cultural perspectives.

"She's kind of one of those conduits of sharing information back and forth," Mahoney said.

The Times was unable to reach Iman's direct supervisor at work.

Iman said she hopes the award shows the wider community that refugees are normal people with normal jobs, trying to raise children who are good citizens and who want to live in a community they feel part of.

"We know how much refugees contribute to our society," Farago said. "They're our neighbors and our coworkers, and they do so much to enrich our communities and our lives here in Minnesota."

This year's award ceremony was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, but 2020 winners will be recognized in the 2021 ceremony.


 



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