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Radio show gives voice to Somali refugees in America

By Aja Harris, CNN
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Africa abroad
  • 30,000 Somali refugees live in Minnesota, in the United States
  • Zuhur Ahmed hosts a radio show that deals with issues affecting the Somali community
  • On her show Ahmed discusses issues like youth violence and teen pregnancy
  • "The unique thing about it is the community here has a voice and they know that," says Ahmed

Minneapolis, Minnesota (CNN) -- On certain nights in Minnesota's Twin Cities, a turn of the radio dial can reveal Somali voices crackling over the radio waves.

But these aren't the voices of a distant land. They belong to Zuhur Ahmed, a local Somali radio host, and her show guests. Together, they are part of a population of about 30,000 Somali refugees in Minnesota.

Ahmed's show "Somali Community Link" offers a snapshot into local Somali life. Ahmed , 24, broadcasts most of the program, which airs on a local station called KFAI, in Somali. She uses the show to give a voice to the plight and triumphs of Somalis here.

"It's important that they have a local media here in Minnesota that speaks their language, that tells what's going on around them or what's happening," she told CNN.

Ahmed, who's studying to become a doctor, feels it's especially important to discuss issues like youth violence and teen pregnancy -- subjects that can be taboo in the growing immigrant community.

Still, she says it's also important that the show reflects the spirit and determination of individuals in the community, especially those who are helping to rebuild communities torn apart by the civil war in Somalia.

When the war began, thousands of Somalis fled the country and ended up in Minnesota. Now, the state has a sizable Somali population and a growing sense of community.

Refugees first came here for the state's strong social service program and for the amount of unskilled jobs available to non-fluent English speakers. Others arrived soon after, encouraged by the existence of a pre-established Somali presence.

Ahmed was born in Somalia but migrated with her family to America in 1998. Her family initially arrived in Houston, Texas, but decided to move to Minnesota when they heard about the active community here.

But with a winter arrival to Minneapolis, the cold air and icy streets gave Ahmed a chilling first impression.

More and more, I became in love with the state, and I became in love with the community.
--Zuhur Ahmed
  • Somalia
  • Africa
  • Radio

"I didn't like it at all," she said. "I was like, 'Are you sure I'm in America because this does not look like it.'"

But when Ahmed realized the sheer volume of Somalis in her neighborhood and in her classrooms, she became more comfortable in her new surroundings -- snow and all.

"More and more, I became in love with the state, and I became in love with the community and with everything here," Ahmed said.

Soon she developed a vested interest in the community.

"It's when you're active in the community and you're seeing everyday people that you notice everyday issues that you know are not being talked about," said Ahmed, who tries to focus in on such issues concerning the youth.

"Because I see conflicting stories being reported on the community and because I tend to see the roots of the real issues ... I thought it would be a good idea to dig through and figure it out."

Though the community has grappled with issues such as gang violence amongst the youth and cultural divides between family members, Ahmed still feels the neighborhood has been strengthened by the idea that they must build opportunities for themselves and others.

And thanks to their own businesses, many Somali immigrants are prospering. On a recent trip to Suuqa Karmel, the local Somali mini-mall that houses an array of stores and services, Ahmed reveled in the familiarity of cultural shops.

"People oftentimes still feel like they're living in Somalia because of the sense of community and access to the cultural and religious stuff you once had," said Ahmed, holding up a hijab in an Islamic clothing store.

The spirit of local entrepreneurs and other community activists continue to inspire Ahmed, especially as they work to invest in and empower communities.

"The neat and unique thing about it is the community here has a voice and they know that," Ahmed said. "So they really try to use that voice collectively to get down to their issues."