Group to visit Somali education system

Participants will travel to Somalia to find ways to improve the education system.

by Marni Ginther

What might have looked like a dinner among friends Monday at the Riverside Avenue Perkins was, for some, the beginning of an important journey.

About a dozen people representing several Twin Cities colleges and local Somali organizations met there for a farewell dinner. Six of them are leaving for Somalia on July 1.

The group will attend educational conferences, meet students and professors and possibly teach classes, said Jennie Kratzer, co-founder of Somali Family Services, a Minneapolis organization serving Somali immigrants.

The group will spend time at Somalia’s Nugaal University and Puntland State University learning how to improve Somalia’s education system.

The country’s lack of a unified government and deep divisions among political factions made a stable educational system difficult in recent years.

Somali Family Services and Minneapolis Community and Technical College have raised enough money from the Somali community to give 30 students at the universities a $300 scholarship. The money will cover a year’s worth of tuition, said Abdurashid Ali, co-founder of Somali Family Services.

Group members will also work with students and educators at the two universities to form stronger ties with Somali students and professors here in the Twin Cities.

“We want to bridge understanding on three levels – college to college, professor to professor and student to student,” said Deborah Johnson, a former University faculty member who now teaches at Inver Hills Community College.

Johnson, who teaches intercultural communication, is also the adviser for a Somali student group at the college. She said that after the trip she will have her students keep in contact with people she meets in Somalia.

“We want to make these connections on a really personal level,” she said.

The prospect of making personal connections with students in Somalia was one thing that drew University global studies senior Nimo Farah to attend the dinner.

As former vice president of the Minnesota Somali Student Association and an active member of the University’s Somali Student Association, she said she wanted to learn more about the work the group will be doing.

“I want to see how we can involve students in this kind of work – in mentoring or raising money for these universities in Somalia,” she said.

Farah, who is a Somali immigrant herself, said she also wants to form ties with students back in Somalia simply to show them they haven’t been forgotten.

“People think you become American and you forget your culture,” she said. “But you have to remember there are students in Somalia, where everything is war-torn, yet they’re still seeking an education. And here, we complain if we have to do homework while our favorite TV show is on.”

The group will also make a documentary of the trip, which will air on Twin Cities Public Television sometime after the group returns July 25.