Monday, April 26, 2010

Somali Strengths

Hi everyone. I am sad to say this is our last post for the semester (of course who ever wants to keep posting and following are welcome to do so) but before we go I wanted to leave everyone with a more positive strength based approach to informing you all of the Somali population. After all we are social work professionals now :) Anyway, as an experiment I did some google research and, as I predicted, I was bombarded by negative things about the Somali population. The good news, though, is that when I began to weed through I found some pretty incredible stories about the good things the Somali population is doing and also good things communities are doing to accept our new neighbors who, in my opinion, bring strength, culture, wisdom and diversity to a country that is in need of all those things. So, if you can take a moment please look at some things I have found. There is more, too, that I did not include. Many more positive things-if you just look. And if we all keep looking to the strengths I bet we will see much more!

United Somali Women of Maine

The mission of United Somali Women of Maine (USWM) is to promote empowerment and a multi-cultural environment that rises up the strength of Somali women and girls by serving as cultural brokers, barrier reducers, skill enhancers and problem solvers.


· Formed in 2001, by director Fatuma Hussein, to respond to the arrival of a significant population of Somali refugees and secondary migrants (refugees originally resettled to a different location in the United States who then subsequently moved to Maine).

· USWM achieved 501(c) (3) status in December 2005 and is poised to serve our community as an independent non-profit organization.

· USWM is a Somali-directed Women’s Center serving as a safe space that is respectful of gender and cultural practices of the Somali and East African community and serves as a bridge between African families in Lewiston-Auburn and Portland and service providers (the schools, social service agents, employers, police and medical community).

Somali Community Access Network
"Changing lives for the better"

About SomaliCAN:

Somali Community Access Network-SomaliCAN- is a 501 (c) (3) community-based non-profit organization headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, which has the second largest Somali population in the United States. SomaliCAN provides culturally and linguistically competent behavioral health and community support services to bridge the gap in access and utilization of services and eliminate barriers to self-sufficiency. .

Our target population is the Somali community in Ohio. The members of this community are very hardworking and determined to continually improve the quality of their lives. All of them are optimistic about the future and what it holds for them. However, most of them have had traumatic experiences in Somalia during the civil war. They lost family members and friends, land and property and were forced to run for their lives. They also face adjustment issues in America due to language barriers, cultural differences, parental-child conflicts, isolation, and overall poverty.
SomaliCAN provides family-focused treatment, prevention and community support services to people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and other barriers. We help clients to become self-sufficient by facilitating their active participation in community life and economic production.
Client satisfaction and service to the community are our top priorities.
Check out our various community support services by clicking on the tabs. If you need interpretation or translation services, select the page for providers.


Changing People's Lives for the Better through Culturally Competent Services and Resources. SomaliCAN provides culture-specific behavioral health and community support services to the Somali community to maximize the potential of each individual.

And please watch this short news brief...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gay Somali

It is illegal to be Homosexual in Somalia, but because someone can't not be homosexual, homosexual acts are punished by lashing, being ostracized from the family and communities, and death. Gays and Lesbians of Somalia have to live secret lives, or they must conform to the laws and live "normal" lives ( According to the Somalia Penal Code, Article 409 sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex is punished by imprisonment from three months to three years. In Article 410 it states that security measures can be added to ensure that the person does not commit the homosexual acts again. Also in some cases the Islamic Sharia Law can be applied in some way to the case, usually ending in stoning ( As well as laws against being Gay there are no laws that protect a Somali man or woman from being discriminated against or sentenced to death because they are Gay.

In this article two women were sentenced to death by stoning for being Lesbians:

After searching around on the internet I couldn't find any website that suggested that Maine has a group for LGBT Somalian community. Yes there is there is the LGBT community in Maine, but Somali people have had to deal with different types of discrimination and hate than others. It isn't that I am saying that they are more important, I myself am a part of the LGBT community being a lesbian, but I never had to live with the threat of being stoned because of who I am. I think that the Somali LGBT community first need there own community to talk about and relate to each other, before they can become a part of the larger community in Maine. They have to feel a part of the Portland/Maine community first, then find allies and others who are LGBT, then they will be able to make the transition. What are some things that can be done to help this? If Somali people are afraid to come out because of the laws they've experienced, what could help them understand they have more freedom here? Maybe USM could have not just a Multicultural Center and a LGBT Center, but a Multicultural LGBT Center as well. That way people of different races and cultures, as well as sexual orientation, can come together comfortably and at their own pace. If they know it is there they will use it and its resources. I think it will help them connect with others, especially other people from different cultures that have experienced the same type of hate and persecution that they have as well. Any other ideas?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Above posted in a short film on the difficulties of those who live in Lewiston are having with the changes that have taken place by the new immigration of Somalis. Included are a brief history of Somali and Lewiston, which helps to explain the animosity that exists between some of those belonging to each culture. There are also commentaries and diverse opinions regarding the changes that have taken place in Lewiston.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Even though this article was published in 2006, I think it has some very valuable information.

First of all, it is interesting to note that Maine was one of the first States to make learning English mandatory in order to receive benefits or to apply for a job. You can see by reading the different scenario's how it worked differently for different people. To me, this is certainly forced assimilation.

What do you think? Do you think it is right to force people to learn the English language? and do you do think is right to sanction/punish them by taking away jobs or services if they don't?

Another note is the contradiction between this weeks article and last weeks. This article is from the Washington Post. I consider this to be a reputable paper. However, the point is the power the media has over WHAT we see and HOW we view things. If one were to read a lot of articles like the one posted last week, one would get a completely different idea of how immigrants are treated in Maine than if they were to read many articles like the one posted this week.

March 2, 2006

Five years after Somalis migrated to Lewiston, Maine USA

The Washington Post

Instructor Ann Breau works with Somali girls in an  English-as-a-second-language class at a school in Lewiston, Maine.

LEWISTON, Maine — Sahra Habib still speaks English in short bursts, with pronouns missing and verb tenses sometimes mangled. But after a job search in which she was rejected by four employers, there is at least one Americanism she can now repeat from memory.

“Don’t call,” she said it goes, “We’re going to call you.” “Don’t call,” she said it goes, “We’re going to call you. “Hers is the story of Lewiston today, as sky-high unemployment among the city’s 2,500 Somali refugees is adding a difficult new chapter to one of the most unlikely stories in U.S. immigration.

Five years after African immigrants began flocking to this former mill town, city officials say they still are not qualified for many of the jobs the city has to offer. In response, Lewiston is enforcing one of the country’s most aggressive

policies aimed at speeding assimilation: Somalis here often must take English classes, or risk losing some welfare benefits. “ESL,” said assistant city administrator Phil Nadeau, summing up the city’s English-as-a-second-

language philosophy, “is everything. “The city’s Somali influx began in 2001, when refugees who had fled a brutal civil war in Africa began migrating again, leaving larger American cities in search of safer streets and cheaper housing.

They found both in Lewiston, a city of almost 36,000 in Maine’s lower midsection. In late 2002, after the Somali population had reached 1,000, then-Mayor Laurier T. Raymond Jr. set off a national controversy by asking

Somali community leaders to stop the influx. “Pass the word: We have been overwhelmed,” he wrote. Since then, Somalis have continued to flow into Lewiston: The most recent arrivals are about 300 Somali Bantus, members of

an ethnic group from the same region. The African immigrant community’s presence shows up here in colorful hijabs worn by female passersby and in the Mogadishu Store and the Red Sea restaurant, which face each other across

downtown’s Lisbon Street. But, for all that has changed about this struggling old town, one thing has not. “Without English, no job,” said a woman who gave her name as Salima Maalim A., 20, and who was talking with Habib, 30,

in the Mogadishu Store. Indeed, Lewiston is too small and too poor to have many of the landscaping, construction or housekeeping jobs that immigrants take in larger cities. The Bates bedspread factory, which gave generations of

French-speaking Canadian immigrants their first paychecks, is closed, leaving only a hulk at the edge of downtown. Instead, what Lewiston can offer is employers such as TD Banknorth, a financial services company that has moved

into part of the old Bates building. There, even filing work requires employees to read the names on the files. Out of its more than 1,000 employees in Lewiston, about six are Somali, a bank spokeswoman said.

To the south, in big-city Portland, officials say the jobless rate among Somali immigrants is less than 10 percent. In Lewiston, “it’s easily over 50 percent,” Nadeau said. He said the city does not have an exact figure because it has

trouble tracking the demographics of the Somali population. The solution, city officials think, is to compress the traditional arc of an immigrant family’s assimilation — from low-skill jobs to English fluency and the service economy

– into a single generation. To that end, Somalis who apply for “General Assistance” — a few hundred dollars a month in local funds for housing, food and other expenses — are usually required to take English classes.

“If they don’t do it, they’re not eligible,” said Sue Charron, who administers the program. She noted, however, that exceptions are made for those who cannot attend classes because of disabilities or having to care for young

children. She said only a few Somalis have been taken off for noncompliance.

Other welfare programs around the country require participants to work, perform community service or attend employment-related training. But immigration experts say it is rare for any jurisdiction to have an across-the-

board English requirement, and they question how much good such a program would do. “For most people, solitary English language acquisition is not the way to get them into work quickly,” said Jonathan Blazer, a lawyer at the

National Immigration Law Center. He said it is more common to require vocational training, instead, or to teach job skills and English together.

Many Somalis interviewed in Lewiston recently said they welcome the English requirement. But others questioned whether it works as intended. Ismail Ahmed, 33, said many students went just because they had to, and learned

little. “They are just coming to pass time,” said Ahmed, who is an indicator of Lewiston’s difficult job environment. He said he received a master’s degree in leadership studies from the University of Southern Maine — and then had to

move to Baltimore early this year because he still could not find a job he wanted in Lewiston. The difficulties of the path that Lewiston has chosen for itself are nowhere more evident than in the English classes themselves. One

recent morning at the town’s bunkerlike Adult Learning Center, teacher Kate Brennan was going through the basics of English sentence construction. She asked Weheliye Ali, 21, to make a sentence out of “I” and “grow” in the past

tense. “I grew up,” Ali said after a pause. “Where did you grow up?” Brennan asked, looking for a slightly more complex sentence. “I grew up in Somalia,” replied Ali, who said later that he wanted to learn English because he had

found it hard to understand his boss at a local hotel. At times, Brennan’s students seemed to be firmly on the track that Lewiston officials have in mind for them, talking about plans to work as a nurse, become a shop owner or

even earn a doctorate. Asked to form a sentence using the word “GED,” meaning the high-school equivalency General Educational Development test, one student came out with “The GED is on the way to higher education.”

But then came the next vocabulary word, “scared,” and another sign of the huge adjustment that Lewiston is hoping these students can make in one lifetime. When Brennan asked the class, “What makes you feel scared?” one

student responded, “When I see the lion. “Brennan looked puzzled. Then, from across the room, another Somali student spoke up. “In Maine,” she told her classmate, “is not lion.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Media's Influence

Newsweek published this article in January of 2009. I think it is a great article addressing Somalis in Lewiston because it describes the influx in the population as having a positive impact on the state’s energy, economy, and diversity. I thought this was an important article to address because most references to the Somali immigrant population in Maine have cited only the negative impacts of their arrival.
While I was researching for my post I stumbled upon a Wikipedia article on the “Somali and Bantu migration in Maine.” This too had a negative outlook on the impacts of the new populations particularly concerning the welfare system (however, I don’t know how accurate this information is). I found it odd that Wikipedia had an entry on this subject.

Most of the stories and headlines dedicated to the topic of Somali immigration to Maine have negative undertones. Either the articles cite resources consumed by the new Somali residents (such as welfare and housing) or the stories describe discrimination and prejudice Mainers have displayed. Two of the most publicized news stories concerning this social issue in Maine were the Lewiston mayor’s letter blaming Somali immigrants for the town’s economic problems and the vandalization of a Mosque with a severed pig’s head which was meant as a prank but fueled racial tension. Both events were heavily reported on and are reoccurring as I research this topic. The vandal in the pig’s head prank later committed suicide which further added to the local controversy. A more recent story consists of listing violent attacks on whites by Somali youth. I found an entire article listing dates, times, and locations of attacks last summer. The article failed torecognize the long list of hate crimes committed by whites on Somali immigrants in the past year. It seems as though each negative news story surrounding this social issue takes a “side” and vilinzes the other party.
However, more recently, reporters have begun to take a positive stance on Somali immigration in Maine. This has lessened some of the public tension surrounding the perceived effects of this new population. Organizations and policies have also been formulated to aid Somali residents. The Center for Preventing Hate in Lewiston has received a three year $500,000 grant to prevent immigration bias and promote well-being among the Somali community in Maine cities. Furthermore, the establishment of Somali-operated businesses has brought a new economic force to Lewiston. The Lewiston community has become much more peacefully integrates in more recent years and community events have bridged some of the gaps between the cultures. I think the more positive reporting this social issue receives, the more the people of Maine will embrace their new neighbors and accept their culture.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hi all. This week I decided to post a blog on an interview I had with a worker at DHHS--Social Services-Refugee program a few months ago. We had extensive conversation about the refugee population and the Somali population. I would like to note that this man was great and inspiring and he had strong opinions based on his observations and work with the refugee population and, even though I can respect all he had to say, his words in some aspects may not necissarily reflect my values and opinions.

The man I interviewed was named Efrem Wel. He is a Human Services Counselor at the Refugee Services Program, Health and Human Service Department. Efrem asked me to come in for an interview and I asked him all about what I needed to know from someone who has worked with refugees since October of 1992. He said that the refugees go through their agency when they come to Portland and he believes he has a pretty accurate knowledge of the community.

The geographic profile of the Somali community in Portland, Efrem explained, is mostly in the housing authority projects such as Kennedy Park, Sagamore Village and Riverton and in subsidized housing complexes on Munjoy Hill, Danforth Street and Saint John Street. They live among a mix of refugees not all of Somali origin. The average economic status of Somalians in Portland is, unfortunately, low. He told me that where most came from was rural backgrounds and they may have been farmers or laborers definately living in a whole different culture. Then they were moved to Portland or as secondary immigrants were move somewhere else in the U.S. and moved themselves to Portland because their family or friends were here. Now in Portland they do not have the skills and education to make livable wages because it is all completely different from their lifestyles, cultures and living situations back home.
This brings me to explain one of the major social problems affecting the risk population: why many refugees seem to end up in the criminal system. Efrem says that he sees most of refugee cases where, because of the above scenario, parents are forced to work many hours for unlivable wages and the kids are left without structure and parenting so many hours a day. They observe this living style and become easily influenced by drugs/alcohol and other peers doing illegal things and they begin to realize that drug dealing, stealing and other illegal activities will get them what they want faster than working for it and also they believe they have no choice because they do not think they can ever have the opportunity to rise above it.

Another major social problem involving Somali refugees in Portland, according to Efrem, is dropout rates. Because the parents are working so much and because they do not know the lessons being taught in American schools, the kids have a hard time getting good grades. They may not be able to get into college and they end up dropping out of school and staying at home. These are other instances when they may be influenced to get into trouble because they watch T.V., get ideas, and want to make money fast and now. The only option, because they have dropped out of school, is to get a minimum wage job, or make lots of money the easy way they have learned from media or the streets and that is to sell drugs and hustle.

The Portland Somali refugee population, I found out through my interview with Efrem, is not as oppressed as I thought they may be. He told me that in his 27 years of working with refugees in Portland he has observed that in general all refugees “have been well received by American government. They have been highly welcomed and well coordinated with government, state, hospitals and social workers.” Of course there are always the same biases, racism and discrimination by some in the community who feel that the Somali population are causing trouble and live off "the system".

Now I will move onto the most important part of the interview: The strengths of the Somali population and how their strengths might contribute to their empowerment. According to Efrem many Somalians are Muslim and Muslims are made up of all strengths. He explained to me that the social problems I described earlier dealing with the refugee community is few and far between when we deal with Muslims. Efrem exclaims “those who speak English well are extremely hard workers, they hate crime. They don’t want to be involved in criminal activities. They are honest, peaceful and motivated. Most Muslims in Portland are educated and very willing to learn and go to school. Because of the religion they are ethical people who teach religion and values to their children; don’t steal, be respectful to elderly, don’t do drugs, etc.”

Efrem goes on to explain that a lot of Somalian refugees are taught culturally that when they grow up it is their responsibility to take care of their family and elder parents so most stay focused and work hard to send money back to their parents and family in other countries. He says “Many refugees are wholly family oriented, culturally. There is no system in the U.S. like the this system". And about the Somali Muslims he says "America has the highest crime, divorce and single parent rate in the world; this is very little in the community of Muslim Somalians.”