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Commemorative event to celebrate Somali history

By MICHELLE VLASAK [email protected]
Wednesday June 29, 2022

James Whelan and friends during a Transformative Servant Leadership program earlier this summer. TSL includes academic enrichment and service for the sake of changing the community and forming leaders. (Photo courtesy of Wanno)

Somalis across the world will celebrate the 62nd annual Somali Independence Day on Friday.

Somali Independence Day commemorates the day the Republic of Somalia gained freedom from British and Italian rule in July 1, 1960.

The Minnesota Historical Society reports Minnesota is home to the country’s largest population of Somali residents.

Waano, a nonprofit set out to empower new immigrant communities in the United States to be successful, is hosting a free event Friday in downtown Faribault to celebrate Somali culture.

The day’s festivities start at 1:30 p.m. in Waano’s learning center, located at 317 Central Ave.

Waano Manager James Whelan said there will be representatives from the Somali Community Resettlement Services and South Central College present for attendees to learn more about Faribault’s agencies.

At 3 p.m., the Somali Museum Dance Troupe will perform a dance at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

According to its site, the Somali Museum Dance Troupe “studies and performs traditional dances from different regions across Somalia.”

The troupe is comprised of teens and young adults from the greater Twin Cities area.

Rehanna Kheshgi, who is an assistant professor of music at St. Olaf College specializing in ethnomusicology, is one of five organizers of the event and suggested bringing the troupe to Faribault. Kheshgi specializes in East African dance and became an advocate for students throughout the last school year.

Along with Whelan and Kheshgi, other events organizers are Waano Executive Director Faadil Sheikhmohamed, Paradise Center for the Arts Executive Director Heidi Nelson and Somali Museum Dance Troupe Manager Mohamoud Osman Mohamed.

A community meeting with Waano’s parent council also helped organizers put plans together so it could be a true Somali celebration.

Along with the Troupe’s performance, Whelan said attendees will have the opportunity to get henna tattoos and tour the Paradise. A vendor will also be on-site selling merchandise.

Whelan hopes the event will demonstrate some of the beauty of the Somali community to Faribault citizens.

“I am looking forward to people in Faribault coming to this event, and it being a springboard for greater relationships and love between Faribault’s more generational citizens and the Somali immigrants who have now been here in Minnesota for upwards of generations,” Whelan said.

Waano was organized to support local communities and educational and health institutions in East Africa by giving hand-to-hand skill training.

Locally, Whelan said members provide academic support to high school students in literacy and math.

This summer, Whelan said a leadership initiative called Transformative Servant Leadership was created to focus on service and fill a gap for high school students.

Throughout this last academic year, Whelan said they ran a dynamic school program that provided academic support Mondays through Thursdays. They had a roster of 100 students and had at least 25 students participate each day.

Looking ahead to the next school year, Whelan said Waano is seeking support to continue its after-school program.

“We have a four-year plan of raising up graduation rates and bringing the English language learner rates up from 50% to 75%,” Whelan said. “That is one of our longer-term goals.”


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