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Photo: Evan Frost/MPR
Mukhtar Ibrahim gives a presentation about Sahan Journal at the Glen Nelson Center in Minneapolis.

When we lived in Minneapolis, we got to know a Somali-American who worked at our apartment building’s front desk and later ran for mayor. He was a friendly, curious man, who enlightened me a good bit about Islam and Africa. As a child in Somalia, he played soccer games interrupted by camels, and he loved to get news from around the world on the radio and then study the map to see where the news was happening.

Today the large immigrant community in his new country has a different way to get news.

Andrew Lapin reports at the Current, “Support from Minnesota Public Radio is enabling a website covering the state’s immigrant communities to expand into a full-time venture for its founder.

Sahan Journal is the brainchild of Mukhtar Ibrahim, who began his career as MPR’s first Somali-American reporter before joining the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He has returned to MPR as a full-time network employee focusing exclusively on Sahan, with the network also providing a content-sharing agreement and other material support.

“Ibrahim said he wants Sahan to be ‘a one-stop shop for all things immigrant in Minnesota.’ …

“Ibrahim began the project in 2013 as a side venture, two years after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota’s journalism school. The name ‘Sahan’ comes from the Somali word for ‘pioneer’ and traditionally refers to a group of respected men from a community who are chosen by village elders to embark on exploratory expeditions.

“Recruiting other writers of the Somali diaspora, Ibrahim published news and information related to East African politics and culture on the Sahan website. He tapped an influential network of contributors. One of Sahan’s former writers, Mustafa Muhummed Omer, was recently appointed acting interim president of the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia, one of the country’s nine governing regions divided by ethnicity.

“ ‘People were really hungry for that kind of content,’ Ibrahim said, adding that English-language news sources for young professional Somalis were hard to come by.

“As Ibrahim started a family and devoted more time to his day job, Sahan Journal fell by the wayside. … Ibrahim knew he wanted to return to Sahan Journal and broaden its focus to capture more of the state’s immigrant population, including Hmong and Liberian residents. After earning a master’s in journalism at Columbia University with the aid of a leadership fellowship from the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, he redirected his attention to his passion project.

“Ibrahim found a willing partner for Sahan Journal in his former employers at MPR. Reaching the state’s immigrant communities is ‘the number-one priority for me,’ said MPR News Executive Editor Nancy Cassutt. …

“Cassutt said MPR aims to republish five stories a month from Sahan Journal, edited by an MPR News editor. She also said MPR would like to see Sahan Journal cover immigrant communities across the entire state of Minnesota, not just the Twin Cities. …

“Ibrahim also hopes to make mentorship and journalism education a part of his site’s mission. … By encouraging more immigrants to become reporters, Ibrahim said, the community will benefit. ‘We say there’s a lack of diversity in the newsrooms, but in the beginning we don’t even give people a chance,’ he said. ‘So this newsroom will be a place where people can run, can fail, can experiment with journalism.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: WGRZ
The owner of Sakina Halal Grill, Kazi Mannan, knows what it’s like to be hungry. Thanks to his paying customers in DC, he can give meals to the homeless for free.

Don’t you love successful people who remember how painful poverty and daily anxiety about food can be — and who decide to help others? Tim Ebner reports at the Eater in Washington, DC, about a restaurateur who did just that.

“Come 2 p.m. in many Washington, D.C., restaurants, the lunch rush is all but over. … But for Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill, the lunch rush is just getting started.

“On a late-Friday afternoon, the door to his Pakistani-Nepalese-Indian restaurant keeps swinging open. A homeless man who is deaf walks through the door. He carries a note. Mannan reads it, then attempts to sign with the man.

“Mannan asks if he wants something to eat while gesturing toward his mouth. The man holds up two fingers and pulls out $2, but Mannan shakes his head no.

“ ‘No money,’ ” he says. ‘You eat for free.’

“That’s Mannan’s policy for every homeless person who walks through the door. At Sakina Halal Grill, the poor, homeless, and hungry eat for free — Mannan calculates he gave away 6,000 meals in 2016 — and the waiters serve them in the dining room, as if they’re full paying customers.

“The buffet-style, halal restaurant, which is undergoing a name change from Mayur Kabab House to Sakina Halal Grill — ‘It’s a tribute to all the mothers around the world,’ Mannan, who lost his mother Sakina, 26 years ago, says of the switch. …

” ‘I’m the little guy on this block,’ Mannan said. ‘And, I love it. …

‘I want to say, “Hey listen, corporate people and people in politics! Listen to me!” I want to show them what love can do, and I want to spread a wave of love that touches the lives of millions.’

“Mannan says he’s living the immigrant dream, in a place where people are likely to take notice. Keeping his door open — which he did Thursday during the #ADayWithoutImmigrants strike — is more than just good business, it’s an expression of his faith. …

” ‘Kazi Mannan: The restaurant has been here for decades. I took it over in 2013 and this really was my dream. I came from a village in Pakistan that didn’t have electricity or plumbing. Our school was completely outdoors. It was always my dream to overcome poverty and own a restaurant. …

” ‘I started working at a gas station off Benning Road in Northeast. At the time, it was a very dangerous neighborhood. I worked there for a few years, and eventually, I saved enough money to start a limousine service; someone told me that I could make my own money as a driver. The funny thing is — that’s where you meet all of the stars of D.C. I still own the company, and I’m very proud that I can provide jobs to people like me, immigrants. Because seriously for me, this is not about the money. …

” ‘My mother taught me to be generous and give with my time. Because remember, we were broke. But, if we had a guest visit, she would make tea and welcome them into our home. She gave everything of herself. …

” ‘I’m a Muslim-American. And I like to believe that when I’m giving to the poor and hungry, God sees that. Just the act of giving a smile to someone can be a blessing. Just think about what food has the power to do. …

‘ ‘The chefs work together … and not only do they make delicious food, but they represent places, which are typically at odds with each other. They come together in this kitchen and use pure love and food. …

” ‘I am proud to be Muslim-American. I am proud to be a citizen of this country. And as a Muslim, I want to show others the true essence of Islam — and that is to love.”

More at the Eater, here. Manna’s initiative seems to be going strong (click here for a 2019 update), which is reassuring as the Eater article is from 2017. I was sorry to see that when Panera tried something similar, a pay-what-you-want model, it didn’t last. (See Bloomberg.) As philanthropic people keep trying to find ways to feed the hungry while running a business, a model that works long-term will emerge. Meanwhile, one kind individual can make a huge difference in many lives.

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Photo: Michał Iwanowski
Michał Iwanowski came across graffiti in Wales that said: ‘Go home, Polish.’ Eventually he did. The
Guardian writes that his 105-day slog restored his faith in the people of a volatile, fractured Europe.

Today’s divisiveness is exaggerated. There are certainly times I chide myself for naïveté, for believing that divisiveness is exaggerated only because I want to. Maybe it isn’t true. Then I read an article like this one about a photographer in Wales who, buffeted by Brexit xenophobia, decided on an experiment.

Sean O’Hagan writes at the Guardian. “On 27 April this year, Michał Iwanowski left his house in Cardiff to walk to his home village of Mokrzeszów in Poland. Carrying British and Polish passports and wearing a T-shirt bearing the word ‘Polska,’ he began his 1,200-mile journey east, sticking as closely as possible to a straight line he had drawn on a map. Over 105 days, it would take him through Wales, England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. Along the way, Iwanowski posted a [diary] on Instagram,. …

“ ‘I saw the project as a way of thinking about the idea of home,’ he says, ‘not least because it would take me from the place I have lived in for 18 years to the place I come from. And I would be doing it at a time when Brexit had made the idea of home, identity and belonging a very politicised subject.’

“Iwanowski had been thinking about walking to Poland for several years, after being confronted in 2008 by graffiti scrawled on a wall in the Roath area of Cardiff, where he lives. ‘Go Home, Polish,’ it read. …

“He often appears in the images, sometimes as himself, sometimes as a generic wanderer lost in an unfamiliar landscape. In one self-portrait, he clings to a tree as if in danger from a threat just out of the frame. In another, he tries in vain to squeeze between two concrete posts – the immigrant’s experience distilled.

“Central to the project was his desire to meet people. It was not always easy. In France, he did not really connect with anyone. In Germany, an enraged local chased him off an allotment he had wandered on to to ask for directions.

“Most of the time, though, it was the sheer energy-sapping doggedness of the undertaking – ‘the drudgery and sweat’ – that tested him as he trudged wearily through often empty, unchanging landscapes. On 8 July, his Instagram post read: ‘On Wednesday I crashed and decided to throw in the towel.’ For a few hours, he sat at the side of a road, dehydrated and exhausted, having thrown his rucksack into the bushes in a tantrum. ‘It lasted a few hours,’ he wrote. ‘I got back up.’ …

“Iwanowski’s long walk ultimately proved both cathartic and life-affirming. … ‘I had become more cynical of late. The experience has banished that cynicism. People are OK. In fact, they are often gloriously generous.’ …

“ ‘Look, I know I am a white male and that I passed quickly through towns and villages, where I was not perceived as a threat. But my experience was so overwhelmingly positive that it has made me question everything I read in the media about the hardening of attitudes that Brexit has supposedly provoked.

I think that a few loud, extreme voices dominate the debate, but ordinary people are stoical or confused – and perhaps a little angry. But they are also decent.’ …

“Has this odyssey changed his way of thinking about home? ‘It confirmed something. I feel utterly at home walking in the landscape, wherever that landscape is. I don’t need to be told by a government, “This is your home.” The ground beneath my feet sanctifies my belonging in this world – not the passport given to me by a country.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Rebekah Welch, Missoulian
Two refugee children hurry to watch a soccer game at Fort Missoula in Montana.

I’m back volunteering with refugees and other immigrants, and it feels great. I took a hiatus to rethink my schedule after my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer. Now I’ll be doing only one day a week instead of three, assisting at a morning ESL class in a Providence resettlement agency and an afternoon class down the street. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile in retirement.

In today’s story, volunteers and staff at some unusually stable refugee programs in Montana feel the same. The article reminds me that my ignorance of much of the country has kept me from appreciating how every state has people with similar values.

In October, Kim Briggeman wrote at the Missoulian, “Montana’s lone resettlement office is just big enough to dodge the ax lowered by the [administration’s] slashed refugee cap, but small enough to escape the staff reductions others face.

“ ‘In Salt Lake City we were staffed to serve 600 arrivals (per year). Well, when you get half of that, you start losing staff,’ Patrick Poulin said in Missoula last week.

“Poulin is acting regional director of 13 International Rescue Committee [IRC] offices in seven Pacific Northwest states, and serves as executive director of the one that opened in Missoula two years ago. …

“The U.S. State Department has ‘pretty much told resettlement agencies’ that offices serving fewer than 100 refugees a year will be shuttered, Poulin added.

“Missoula’s IRC office received 115 refugees in fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30. Poulin said that was up from 78 in the first full year, and included a welcome but unexpected rush of 26 Congolese in July and another 23 Congolese and Eritreans in August. Those represent the top two months for refugee arrivals since the IRC began receiving them in August 2016. …

“The U.S. Secretary of State [announced] in mid-September a proposal to lower the number of refugees allowed into the country from a maximum of 45,000 to 30,000 for fiscal-year 2019. Both are fractions of the 110,000 set by President Barack Obama in his final months of office in 2016, a cap that was ratified by Congress. …

“ ‘This is not only the lowest goal in the history of the U.S. program — the average has been 95,000 — but puts U.S. resettlement, as a proportion of population, well behind Sweden, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom,’ noted a guest commentary co-authored by Helena mayor Wilmot Collins that appeared last Monday in The Hill. Collins [is] a refugee from Liberia. …

“Missoula Federal Credit Union (MFCU) … donates roughly 7.5 percent of its annual net income to community programs like these. …

“[Mary Poole of volunteer-reliant Soft Landing Missoula] said it was another reminder of how Missoula Federal and its president, Jack Lawson, have supported local refugee resettlement from the start.

“ ‘We’ve had, I think, three or four meetings with Jack where he’s asking, “What’s next? What can we do beyond money to help?” And of course there’s always an answer for that,’ she said.

“The IRC works with schools and organizations to set up classes such as English language and computer literacy courses to help refugee families integrate into the community. In the credit union’s case, it’s financial literacy support. …

“[Gwen Landquist of Missoula Fed] said a ‘fantastic’ family of Congolese has agreed to be taken under the wing of a financial mentor from MFCU for a year.

“ ‘The husband and wife met at a refugee camp and moved here in July with their three children and one of their mothers,’ she said in an email. …’ The husband speaks about seven languages, including English, and his kids are learning Spanish in school. He has taken some prep classes to prepare for attending school. He is currently employed and is eager to get a car so they can get to church and work.’ …

“A study that came out in July found that the 4,600 refugees and other immigrants in the Missoula region generate more than $26 million in tax revenue each year and contribute disproportionately to goods produced and services provided.”

More at the Missoulian, here.

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Look how happy my friend was after the 2012 ceremony that gave her US citizenship.

The other day the young lady above and I came to a funny realization about what I thought she told me 20-plus years ago when we first knew each other.

At that time, as a recent immigrant, her English was not as fluent as it is now, and I wasn’t as good a listener. As a result, I’ve been believing a bogus story for decades — and telling it to other people!

A naturalized US citizen originally from Brazil, my friend runs a cleaning business that has long benefited my family. Today she and I were chatting, and she happened to mention that she had studied nursing for two years. I was surprised. As the information sank in, I was even astonished.

“Wait! What? You spent two years studying nursing before you came here at age 14 with your boyfriend?”

It was her turn to be astonished. “I didn’t come here at 14. Oh, no! Something wrong with communication!”

“You didn’t leave home at 14 with your boyfriend, now your husband? The two of you didn’t come here through Mexico and work on a farm?!”

“No! Oh, my goodness, no!”

“But that’s my story about you!” I exclaimed. “I have told that story to everyone.”

How we laughed!

She said, “I think I know what I told you that made you think I came here when I was 14.”

“You mean I have to completely rethink my story of your life! Well, OK. Gee. I liked the old story.”

Laughing, she explained, “I met my boyfriend when we lived in Brazil. He came to America first, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come?’ So I got a visa and came. I was 18.”

“18! Well, I guess I’m glad you didn’t leave home at 14 after all.”

“My father was upset enough that I came here at 18. Imagine if I had come at 14! He would never speak to me again.

“I think I told you that there was an opening to become a citizen at that time, but to qualify, you had to be living and working in the orange groves for five years already. I wasn’t good with numbers when I told you that it meant I would have to be 14 when I started picking oranges. I should have said 13.”

Then I replied, thinking that if she had told me “13,” I really might have questioned the story more, “So you never came through Mexico?”

“No, we were in Florida. And the US had a special amnesty for people who worked in the orange groves for five years.”

“And the two of you never worked on a farm?”

“No! First I worked in a nursing home, but I really couldn’t speak English. I couldn’t understand what people were asking me for. The manager had to demonstrate everything.

“One time an old man asked me for water over and over and over, and when he finally tried using Portuguese, I just cried because I knew I hadn’t been helping him or the other old people when they needed help. So I went and put an ad in the newspaper for cleaning houses. That’s how it started.”

She had some other great stories about misunderstandings in English and we laughed a lot. Now everything is cleared up.

(I hope.)

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Photo: Elissa Nadworny/NPR  
Cathy Meaney (right), a volunteer with International Neighbors, has befriended an Afghan refugee family in Charlottesville, Va.

Here’s a story of how one person can make a big difference. The one person I’m thinking of is a teacher who started a nonprofit to help refugees in Virginia. After launch, there was another “one person” and another and another.

In fact, quite a few kind Virginians were concerned to learn that refugees have to start taking care of their own needs in 90 days — a nearly impossible task in a strange place where you don’t know the language.

Elissa Nadworny has a report at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Here’s a number: 90. That’s how many days most refugees arriving in this country have before the basic resettlement money they get from the government runs out.

“But once that three months is over, there are still so many things recent arrivals need. That’s what Kari Miller saw over and over as a teacher in the public schools in Charlottesville, Va.

“In her classes, students who had recently arrived in the U.S. as refugees were struggling with all kinds of problems, like serious dental issues, or a lack of winter clothes or just the challenge of adjusting to life and school in a new land and a strange language. …

“She asked her principal for permission to take children to clinics, to buy them winter coats, to go home and meet their families. … Seeing them every day at school gave her an idea: Connect these families to their Charlottesville neighbors.

“Working out of her garage, Miller started the nonprofit International Neighbors. That was two years ago, and the organization has now grown to more than 200 volunteers. Many of them work full-time jobs but are ready to jump in to help families in that crucial period after the government aid runs out. …

“There are so many questions: Where can I get a car? Is school closed today? How do I turn on my shower? And, please, help me fill out all this paperwork!

“Paperwork, that’s the real currency in the United States, says Liza Fields, a member of International Neighbors’ board. … Fields helps refugees fill out those many, many forms — mostly for medical care but also dental work, school needs and, of course, paying bills. …

“The No. 1 request refugees make of International Neighbors is for a car. That’s usually followed closely by another related request: driving lessons. The organization provides money for lessons. But some volunteers like Helga Hiss are willing and able to give lessons. That, says Kari Miller, is the sweet spot. …

“Last fall, Hiss started giving driving lessons to a woman named Neegeeta, who moved to Charlottesville with her family from Afghanistan about 2 1/2 years ago.

” ‘It was very, very difficult life,’ Neegeeta says as her 18-month-old son, Musadiq, crawls into her lap. She asked that we use only her first name in order to protect family members who remain in Afghanistan.

“That first year in the U.S. was so hard, Neegeeta says, that they thought about moving back to Afghanistan. She felt isolated. She was working on her English, taking care of her three children, and dependent on a bus transfer to get her to appointments. …

“But, month by month, things got better. Her husband got a good job. The family got a car. They moved into an apartment downtown.

“Neegeeta credits much of this newfound confidence to volunteers like Hiss, who she says helped her feel welcome as she drove around her new city, laughing — and praying — in Hiss’s Toyota Camry.

“Those lessons, Neegeeta says, changed everything. Gave her freedom.”

Read about the nonprofit’s varied programs — including the one that pairs Charlottesville and refugee families who have similar characteristics — at NPR, here.

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The United States still has a primarily throwaway culture and has not caught on yet to the Dutch “repair café” concept or Swedish notions about a mall for recycling.

Which is why it probably took a New American to notice that there was a need.

As Isaiah Thompson reports at WGBH radio, “It isn’t entirely clear from looking through the big windows facing Dorchester Avenue, in the Field’s Corner neighborhood, what the business is.

“The only advertising is an inauspicious plastic sandwich board reading ‘Repair Service: From $30 and Under 30 Minutes, Walk-in Welcome.’

“Inside is a large, room, with electronic equipment stacked in bins along the wall and lying in piles around the floor, and a few guys hunched over cheap plastic tables. But what they’re doing is as much a fine craft as it is hi-tech.

“They’re fixing cell phones.

“These guys don’t work for Apple or Samsung, or any manufacturers. That’s the whole point.

“ ‘I’m not officially sanctioned by the manufacturer,’ explains Quang Le, who, with his friend and business partner Minh Phan, started this scrappy repair shop in 2015.

The shop, says Le, ‘exists because there’s a need, and they don’t satisfy it.’ …

“The need he’s talking about is ubiquitous: cracked smartphone screens.

“Samsung screens can cost hundreds of dollars to replace. iPhone screens can cost an Apple customer around $150. …

“ ‘When they come to my store it’s like 80 bucks … Wouldn’t you rather go to the store down the block? we do it in like five minutes!’

“Born in Vietnam, Le came to the United States as a foreign student when he was sixteen. ..

“Where most of us see broken glass, Quang saw opportunity. …

“Le realized that by teaching himself this one, super-difficult skill: separating the broken glass from working screens — he could get an edge – and make money.

“He and his partner Phan hired some friends. They bought heavy-duty glue-warming tables from China. They built a dust-proof chamber out of metal. And they taught themselves by watching Youtube videos – and by trial and error. …

“ ‘Like, we broke so many screens – like we broke probably hundreds of them, trying to do it,’ Le chuckles.” Read more here and see what ambition Le wants to tackle next.

Hat tip: The International Institute of New England, on twitter.

Photo: Isaiah Thompson/WGBH News
Quang Le has built a business doing phone repairs the tech giants would rather not bother with.
 

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