By Abdi Mohamud (Awabdi)
It may sound to you odd, funny, interesting or dead serious question depending on the angle from which you view it. You may also wonder why I pose such a question since it is natural for every human being to have a plan. Some have plans to do business, get education, make career. Some others would like to have family, raise children and see them succeed. And many others have plans to impact the other people’s lives by working towards the common good. Some plans are realistic, solid and achievable while some others are unrealistic, untenable and mere fantasy. However, plans are just like dreams or wishful thinking until efforts are made and actions are taken that will produce the intended results and goals. Plans and good plans are essential for human beings to survive, exist and progress. In this context, a plan means an idea. Conceive an idea, think about, study it and set it in motion. Take action and get things moving, one thing at a time and that will lead to bigger and better thing.
So Somalis in diaspora, you are everywhere and in every corner of the globe. You are represented on all continents and in almost every country. You have settled in Western Europe, North America, Middle East, East and Southern Africa. And your numbers in those places are significant. You have been living in some of those countries for over a century or two. Somalis started to settle in Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, England, Uganda and Oman in the 19th century and beyond. Somalis Have also maintained constant contact in some other countries for centuries. Notable among those are India, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Somalis had been visiting those countries before even the European colonizers had set foot in those places. Somali seafarers and businesspeople had been undertaking long and grueling trips to those countries before the steam ship invented. They had been going to those countries for business and education and they are still doing the same thing with them today. However, things have changed since early 90’s when the civil war broke out in Somali.
Somalis started to flee to the neighboring countries and beyond for safety. Diminishing prospect for peace and economic wellbeing has also forced many to move out of their beloved country. The number of Somalis on the move has been on biblical proportion. Somali population in every country in northern and Western Europe is in the thousands. In UK the Office for National Statistics estimated that 100,000 Somalis were living there in 2016. Similarly, Germany’s Federal Statistics Office recorded 40,000 Somalis there in 2016. It is also reported that over 40,000 Somalis call Sweden home. In Canada, some unofficial sources estimate that close to 100,000 Somalis are in that country. It is also reported that number of Somalis in USA is somewhere between 150,000 to 200,000 of which majority have taken residence in Minnesota.
So, Somalis in diaspora what is your strategy or plan to keep your communities to survive and thrive in the coming decades and even centuries? Are you ready, willing and committed to leaving a lasting legacy? Are your children aware that they have identity and culture that they should preserve and pass on to the next generation? Are you deliberately making efforts to help them realize these aspirations? Do you have the resources, human or otherwise, to achieve these goals? I would caution the readers to not assume that I am suggesting that we should stonewall, segregate and keep ourselves in ghettos. You can keep your identity and heritage alive and still be productive, patriotic and equal citizens in your respective countries. This has precedent. It is not something unique or new.
There are successful communities that have been maintaining their identities, beliefs, cultural traditions etc. for centuries in countries where they have been small minorities. Jewish communities across Europe and North Africa are good example. Similarly, there are communities originated from the Indian sub-continent, China and others places who have kept their identity and traditions intact across Africa, Europe and North America. Those communities have been noticeable and equal participants in all spheres of the societies in which they live. They occupy both high and low places in their countries. They have doctors, engineers, politicians, businesspeople, truck drivers, cap drivers construction workers and so on. So this shows that you can maintain your identity and cultural traditions and still be able to be healthy, integral part of the whole. So when one retains his/her language, faith and other aspects of his/her cultural heritage that will give him/her purpose, direction and stability. It increases one’s self esteem, confidence and ability to stay connected. Researches conducted over the years affirm this. Researchers in Canada have recently started encouraging children of immigrant parents to learn and speak their parents’ languages at home. The researchers have argued that by doing so children’s self-esteem gets enhanced that leads them to success.
Language is the key to any cultural identity. Language is the thread that holds people together as it enables them to communicate and interact to one another. When you communicate with someone, you are sharing with that person information, stories and ideas that will create trust and connectedness. And the benefit is even greater when one inherits and acquires his/her mother tongue. So there is need for Somalis in diaspora teach their language to their children. These children need to know their roots and have the ability to communicate with their uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and everyone else they share with culture and heritage. There is duty and responsibility for the parents to teach their language to their children. No excuse or justification for failure in this matter.
Parents should have plans to keep their language and culture alive. Always find time to sit together and discuss any topic of interest to your family. Let members of the family ask open-ended questions as that will give them opportunity to talk longer and find more suitable words to describe the subject at hand. Set time for family issues to talk and discuss. For instance, siblings’ complaints against each other, shopping, cleaning the house, maintaining healthy life style and other matters related to family affairs should be discussed on daily and week basis at a time when all family members are able to attend. You conduct this in an easy and fun way while settling issues and promoting respect, tolerance and whole host of other good values. Limit the exposure to TV, computer and other gadgets for the first three years of their life. In most cases, your children’s exposure to the world outside house will be limited, so take advantage of this opportunity by playing, talking and interacting with them in all possible ways. During this period your children will acquire good skills of their mother tongue. Continue your efforts after this period when your children will start to get involved in school.
Band with other families and organize activities for your children. Parents should participate in those activities. Your role is not to dominate but to facilitate, guide, nurture and foster good culture rooted in awareness of who they are without limiting their ability to be involved in the world outside the house. For instance, encourage your children to be active in their school. Allow them to play sports, music, participate in debates, volunteering and other extra curricula activities in the school as well as in the communities.
At community level, work together and establish your own centers where you can easily and freely have activities of your choice. This kind of setting and opportunity will enable children to grow together, know and trust one another. This planning will also help them stay connected and that connectedness will make easier for them to marry each other and have the ability to carry on their community building efforts.
Finally, allow your children to know and keep in touch with their relatives back home. Taking some trips back home will also give them the opportunity to know more and develop close, long lasting relationship with their relatives. Such trips will also give them good exposure to their culture.
Abdi Mohamud (Awabdi)
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