President's Speech

Speech On The Somali Community

The SCAO staff, continues to work diligently to meet new needs by providing additional services in the coming year.

Hassan Omar, President Address to Columbus City Council
August 7, 2007

Good Afternoon to the Members of the City Council; Health, Housing and Human Committee Chair Charleta Tavares; guests, friends and citizens of Columbus:
In 1991, civil war raged in Somali and the nation was plunged into a nightmare of murder and destruction. Statistics on the number of people who lost their lives range as high as 500,000 and this number continues to rise today. Somali’s infrastructure disintegrated and most people left all their belongings and many left family as they fled violence, instability, disease and famine to live in refugee camps. Today it is estimated that the civil war has caused displacement of millions of Somali’s eight million citizens.

Somali refugees began arriving in the United States and Columbus became a popular destination. Ohio now has the second largest Somali population in the nation. It is estimated that 40,000 Somali refugees call Columbus home and more are expected in the future. Even in Somali, Columbus, Ohio has become well-known.

In 2000 the Somali Community Association of Ohio began providing assistance to hundreds of these new refugees and immigrants. Men, women, young adults and school children walk through our doors every day searching for community services.

Dedicated staff and volunteers who understand the language and culture of Somali, help these new families learn about the language, culture and lifestyle in America.

Somali Community’s outreach services assist people from the north, east and west sides of Columbus, and throughout Central Ohio. Many people come for help who have relocated from Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and other states.

African immigrants from Ethiopia, Eritriea, Ghana, and even low-income African-Americans are provided services too.

The SCAO has assisted as many as 60,000 family members since it opened its doors to the community. A diversity of services is provided including:

• ESL classes
• Citizenship training
• Adult workforce development
• Youth workforce development
• Job skills training and job retention
• Translation and interpretation
• Case management
• Meals for seniors
• Housing issues and referrals
• Legal and advocacy services
• Basic life skills training and acculturation
• Outreach to educational institutions
• Outreach to job partners

Many refugee families who lack English language skills are unfamiliar with the education system. They look to the staff and volunteers of Somali Community to help with school enrollment, after-school tutoring and mentoring for their children. Three-hundred and forty (340) children were enrolled in our after-school program but unfortunately for those who depended on this necessary help, the program is no longer available due to lack of funding.

The staff and volunteers of Somali Community educate and encourage people to become U.S. citizens. Today as many as 4,000 to 5,000 Somali men and women have achieved this reward. Most of them began by walking through our doors.

More than 400 to 500 Somali businesses, from Mom and Pop to shopping malls, are creating a positive economic impact in Columbus today. Somali Community produce and support these businesses through partnership and outreach to community organizations who offer assistance to those immigrants who strive for financial independence through business ownership.

Above average school drop-out and unemployment rates exist among Somali youth 17, 18, 19 and older who were not formally educated in war-torn Somali or neighboring refugee camps. In the U.S., many are placed in grades with younger students and feel out of place and eventually drop-out. This can easily lead down the wrong path. The SCAO, along with our funding partners, promote and provide programs that help create financial independence, a safe haven and positive role models to counteract these negative influences.

Students, who attend and complete computer literacy classes in the SCAO’s computer lab, receive certification for Microsoft Office Skills Training, which greatly enhances their opportunity to attain and retain employment.

Although required by our funding contracts to place 100 people in jobs by the fourth quarter of 2006, over 200 out-of-work individuals enrolled in our job programs are employed and are productive, tax paying individuals now.

Senior citizens served by the SCAO face specific challenges, especially those challenges relating to loss of health care. Some refugees and immigrants can receive SSI benefits for up to seven years. But after those seven years, if you do not attain U.S. citizenship, you risk losing all social security income and medical assistance. For the aged, learning a new language, culture and history is overwhelming and citizenship can be a difficult task to accomplish.

After 911, the U.S. Government implemented a wide range of legislative measures in the name of Homeland Security. The impact on citizenship and immigration has been profound. Today, citizenship has been significantly delayed for many individuals who have applied for, tested and passed citizenship examinations. Name checks, one of the FBI’s security screening tools, has prevented completion of many cases.

To overcome the daily challenges that immigrants and refugees must overcome in order to transition into productive members of the mainstream, these crucial barriers must be dealt with through increased funding by our city, state and county partners:

Expanded educational opportunities for adults and children
• In-house legal services
Immigration and citizenship
Housing availability and affordability
Day care
Senior citizen services

In order to abate the serious issues that are growing along with the population, decisive action must be taken. The SCAO is working diligently with law enforcement, political action groups, and community and government agencies to improve and maximize services and to minimize future problems.

We believe that it is in the united power of SCAO’s committed staff, volunteers, government agencies, other non profits, public and private foundations and Columbus’ concerned citizens to fulfill our mission of self sufficiency, economic empowerment and productive citizenship for every member of our community.