We were sitting in a mosque in Mankato when an elderly woman came looking for $100. We looked at each other and could see panic because we could not afford to donate. That is the moment we decided to host an Eid fundraiser with a group of young people.
Moms donated their time. Businesses donated food and ingredients. We heard a lot about the struggles our Somali community was facing. As young adults, we wanted to do more.
Our first task was to reach out to every member of the local Somali community for a face-to-face survey. We wanted to understand more about the needs in the community. We invited people to coffee, or accepted invitations into their homes, and had conversations.
Modern surveys tend to be digital or written on paper. Yet members of our Somali community dislike impersonal communication. We are very communal people. Oral communication is how we share thoughts and ideas. People shared their hopes, dreams, and struggles with us. We caught the pulse of the community, while strengthening our relationships.
In-person conversations make it easier to discuss sensitive issues. We were overwhelmed by our conversations — by the pain and suffering of those who do not know who to ask for help because everyone in their circles only speak Somali. More than 400 Somali people signed a petition to open an office representing the Mankato Somali community.
We decided to start the Bridging Somali Care initiative, in which we followed and tracked 50 individuals. We focused on reducing risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, as well as a holistic approach to living. An exercise club, lifestyle education classes, and medication class led to a reduction in diabetes diagnoses and weight gain, as well as increased consumption of healthy food and daily physical activity. Our youth program helps build leadership skills and increase financial literacy. Upon completion, one young person was able to use what they had learned to purchase their first car.
While completing the survey, we were not focused on the numbers or the bottom line. Rather, we put people and their needs first. Our advice to grassroots organizers is to value and utilize their diversity in serving their community. If there is a need, there is a way of filling it.
A few years ago, we would not believe it if someone were to tell us that we would become co-founders of a successful community-based organization.
We are grateful to reach so many people. We did not expect to have such a large impact in our community. The lives we have been able to touch give us hope. The Somali Community Barwaaqo Organization has come a long way from two broke girls sitting at a mosque.
Fardousa Jama and Hamdi Abdinoor (she/hers) are co-founders of the Somali Community Barwaaqo Organization.