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
• 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
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
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
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
• Housing availability and
• 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.