Meet Your New Neighbor: Somali immigrant becomes a voice for other women
When she came to Minnesota in 2008, St. Cloud's Anab Dahir, a mother of six, was working on putting the pieces of her life back together.
"I didn't have any family here, I just came. I had a business, and I had a home in Tennessee that went bankrupt," she said. "Then I decided to move to Minnesota or Seattle, Washington. My sister lived in Seattle, but she told me there's a lot of rain over there, every single day."
Dahir decided that Minneapolis, despite its weather issues, would be her next place to call home. She was there for two weeks before moving to St. Cloud, where she's been a resident ever since. In that time, she's become an integral part of the community and hopes to be an asset to not only Somali residents but St. Cloud as a whole.
"She is a person I turn to if I need guidance, advice or input on East African Somali women's issues," St. Cloud Police Department Crime Prevention Specialist John Justin said. "If I want to learn or find out more, I go to her."
Justin said he's gotten to know Dahir well during the past few years, and he thinks her determination is a difference maker.
"She cares about what she does, and she's straightforward," he said. "It's just wonderful having people in the community that are honest with you, and they give you their best advice and their counsel."
In the past six years, Dahir has seen her share of struggles. Those difficulties shaped her into an advocate for Somali women in St. Cloud and the surrounding areas.
"The reason I came to St. Cloud is because they told me that maybe I can get a better house here than in Minneapolis," Dahir said. "It wasn't true. I came here, and I was in a shelter for about two months."
Eventually Dahir and her family found a place to live, and then she focused her attention on bettering herself and the community. In 2009, she got a job with Reach-Up in St. Cloud as a teacher's assistant. Eventually she began taking classes at St. Cloud Technical & Community College and improving her language skills. By 2012, Dahir was acting as an intermediary between parents and teachers during school conferences. She currently serves on St. Cloud's Housing & Redevelopment Authority board of commissioners, which helps determine practices and policies for housing and neighborhood programs.
"(By doing these things) I found out a lot of information that I didn't know before," she said. "That was very hard, so I decided to do something for those people."
What she did was create Central Minnesota Somali Women Support, an organization geared toward working with female immigrants to foster cultural integration and provide those women with the resources to become self-sufficient.
"We've got a lot of goals, (so many that) we'll never finish those goals," Dahir said. "When you come from another world and you come to America, you don't know the rules. This is a hard time."
Dahir and other members of the group help women with everything from finding jobs to learning how to apply makeup. The group doesn't have a permanent space to operate from but is hoping to raise enough money to change that soon.
Justin said people such as Dahir are the glue that helps strengthen the bonds of the St. Cloud community.
"It's nice to have her," he said. "She is compassionate, she is intelligent, she is articulate. ... I have a lot of respect for her."
As much respect as Dahir's peers have for her, she has as much, if not more for the place she's called home for the past six years.
"When I came to St. Cloud, I didn't have any idea how it'd change my life. Now I believe this is my home," Dahir said. "Last year, I traveled to ... Kenya, Somalia, and when I came back, I felt like this is my home."