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At St. Paul’s Humboldt High, girls come together, open up and then help others

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Students use their own mistakes to learn and help younger girls avoid trouble.

Anthony Lonetree

It takes time to get the conversation rolling among the girls at St. Paul’s Humboldt High, and even then, the initial talk during a recent visit was about pimples and prom.

But Kati Vaudreuil, a school social worker, keeps prodding, and the nine gathered in room 2218 begin to open up about classroom difficulties — plus a taco salad fundraiser they’d organized that netted $430 for homeless kids.

These girls were tapped to be leaders before they knew they had the qualities in them. And they have risen to the challenge with the help of Kadra Mohamed, a Metro Transit officer who volunteers as a mentor. In many cases, the girls joined the “Women’s Leadership Group” after making mistakes or ­enduring personal struggles.

Some have gotten into fights. They’ve skipped school.

But in the course of once-a-week meetings carved out of the regular school day, they talk out those issues plus others they may have in common — family problems, for example — with the promise that the details stay in the room.

“I feel like the group is a diary,” Mariya Johnson, 16, a junior from the East Side, said after one of its meetings two weeks ago. “We say how we feel inside the group. When we get outside the group, it all disappears.”

Melissa Dobbs, 18, a junior from the North End, was blunt about the reason for her involvement.

“Fighting. Physically. In the office, always in trouble,” she said.

Even within the group, Dobbs said, she butted heads with Johnson, at first. In time, they worked through the drama.

Now, they sometimes are called to the principal’s office together, she said, to speak with younger girls who have been fighting — to be an example of teens able to settle their differences.

When on edge, Dobbs said, those times when “the old Melissa would have just went off,” she takes a minute to think, “Should I really do this?”

For that, “the 60-second decision,” she can thank retired St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith. Three years ago, Smith partnered with ­Vaudreuil to start the girls group.

He, too, is a former Humboldt troublemaker made good.

Smith has been a force at the West Side school for many years, having launched a ­mentoring program there about 14 years ago, Vaudreuil said.

Interim Superintendent John Thein, who had breakfast with the girls after their taco salad fundraiser, joked that anyone venturing within a block of Humboldt is liable to be pulled inside by Smith to be a mentor. Theresa Battle, an assistant superintendent who oversees high schools, meets weekly with Johnson, who struggled with her grades and attendance.

“She’ll be real with me,” Johnson said of Battle as a mentor. “She’ll tell me straight up, ‘You really need to come to school. It’s important.’ ”

This year, Smith spent much of his time getting a similar boys’ group up and running. But he was there with the girls on a Wednesday recently — dressed in red track jacket and black sweatpants — reminding them of 60-second decisions and of being conscious of the “craziness in the streets” and the violence that can occur at parties.

“I just want to tell you: I’m proud of you,” he said. “But be careful.”

Also there preaching awareness was Mohamed, who grew up on the West Side and is the state’s first Somali-American officer. She worked with the girls the entire school year.

Muna Mohamed, 17, a senior from the East Side, considered being a police officer, citing Kadra Mohamed’s influence, but now is leaning toward becoming a probation ­officer. Too many kids from their culture are in juvenile detention without someone they can trust or relate to, she said. “They don’t have that one person who can connect with them, and say, ‘This is this.’ ”

Shukri Ali, 18, a senior from the West Side, also credits Kadra Mohamed with helping her push through a rough year during which Ali was absent because of family problems.

“It’s nice to hear from a professional like Kadra that you’re going to make it eventually,” Ali said.

Last Friday, the girls and the boys — many of whom serve as mentors to Humboldt’s middle-schoolers — joined in a year-end celebration. Dobbs was unable to make it, however. She is part of the school’s certified nursing assistant ­program, and had to take a state test that day.

Someday, Dobbs hopes to be a nurse, she said, and then to go back to school to be a doctor. Being a leader, and learning to respect yourself, she said, can help you dream big.

Briefing Room

From Refugee Camp, Young Somali Lands Spot at Princeton

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Last August, Asad Hussein boarded the back of a truck in Dadaab, Kenya, sitting with other passengers among sacks of beans being transported to Somalia’s capital.

The truck headed east across the desert over the Somali border and deep into territory controlled by al-Shabab, the violent extremist group, on its way to Mogadishu.

The 700-kilometer trip, which Hussein wrote about in The New York Times,represented a chance for him to see where his father grew up. Now, he’s preparing for a new journey after being accepted by one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
The 22-year-old refugee plans to join the class of 2022 at Princeton University, in the eastern U.S. state of New Jersey.

Life in a refugee camp

Hussein was born in Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps, in 1996. His parents and older sister had fled the war in Somalia five years earlier in search of a new life. Dadaab was meant to be temporary, but it became home.

Hussein’s sister, Maryan, immigrated to the United States in 2005 with her husband and son. Only 11 years later did the siblings reunite, when Maryan returned to Dadaab on a visit that Hussein also wrote about in The Times.

“The life in Dadaab is basically stranded,” Hussein told VOA’s Somali service in a phone interview Monday, after tweeting about his admission a couple of days ago. “You are not allowed to work or to do anything just as a refugee, and the word ‘refugee’ comes with so many restrictions.”

Despite those limitations, Hussein said, people were determined to make lives for themselves. They had escaped war, and they were bound to keep fighting.

The key, people told Hussein, was education.

“I was always told that, you know, ‘You need to go to school and do something,’ and things like that. And that’s my childhood.”

The sprawling Dadaab camp’s infrastructure includes schools. Hussein said he finished high school in 2014, “and for three years I have been trying to get into university.”

Meanwhile, Princeton – which admitted just 5.5 percent of all applicants for the class of 2022 – has been among some U.S. colleges and universities trying to diversify their student bodies. That includes welcoming academic high achievers who, like Hussein, may not have the financial means independently. Hussein said he’s been offered a full scholarship to Princeton, which estimates that tuition, room, board and fees will total $70,010 for the next academic year.

In the university’s 2021 graduating class, 13 percent are international students – with representation from 11 African nations.

Founded in 1746, “Princeton has depended since its inception, and depends today, on the talent and contributions of newcomers to this country,” its president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, wrote last month in an annual letter to the campus community.

Last week, Princeton joined 30 other colleges and universities in challenging the Trump administration’s proclamation to restrict immigration from several Muslim-majority countries. The university filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to support the state of Hawaii’s challenge, it said in a news release.

An ‘incredible achievement’

Ty McCormick, the former Africa editor at Foreign Policy, about President Donald Trump’s travel ban after reading his work in The Times.

“He’s an extraordinary young man: brilliant, focused, and driven to better himself and those around him,” McCormick told VOA.

“Although I have become a mentor of sorts, I think it’s fair to say I’ve learned more from him than he has from me. All of the credit for this incredible achievement belongs to him. He overcame tremendous obstacles to get where he is – obstacles most of us can’t fully comprehend. My hat is off to him,” McCormick said in a written response.

‘People who can do something’

Hussein wrote about the frustrations of camp life for Foreign Policy early last year: “The words I write may travel all around the world, but I am confined to the refugee camp where I was born. I can’t move freely in Kenya; I need a permit to leave Dadaab. My whole life, it seems, I’ve been living the American dream. I just don’t know how much longer I can bear to live it outside of America.”

Hussein hopes his achievement will change people’s minds about what refugees can accomplish.

“When we hear of refugees, we always think of people who are a liability, people who want something,” he told VOA. “… So I’m glad that my story shows that refugees are actually people who can do something.”

Now, Hussein’s journey will take him to the same campus that produced theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, former President Woodrow Wilson and first lady Michelle Obama.

Hussein, an avid fiction reader, said he wants to study English and history. And, for the first time since he was 9, he will live in the same country as his parents and sister.

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Education

Somalia: Turkish foundation’s school hosts 500 students

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Turkiye Diyanet Foundation (TDV) on Tuesday said the Sheikh Sufi Imam Hatip High School in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, which it restored six years ago, currently hosts 500 students.

According to Turkey’s religious services consultant in Somalia Ahmet Akturk, numerous students were orphans. TDV said 270 of these students are boarders.

”All of the students’ costs are covered by TDV and the foundation will make sure the students continue their university studies,” he added.

Turkey began to set up various projects in Somalia in 2011 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched an initiative to help the East African country, which was undergoing a famine due to drought.

The initiative later grew to other humanitarian activities and educational projects, according to the statement.

Sheikh Sufi Imam Hatip High School, which has existed in Mogadishu since 1960, stopped functioning in 1991 due to civil war.

According to TDV , a new protocol signed with the Ministry of Education of Somalia in 2012 led to the resumption of educational activities.

Approximately 2,000 students apply to the school every year but only a hundred are accepted due to quota restrictions.

Eleventh grade student Muhammad Hasan said the school was a “great opportunity” for all students there.

“We get a combination of scientific and religious knowledge, we learn in the best way,” Hasan added.

According to Leyla Sherif, another student, the school provides not only education but safety and health services too.

“Our school is one of the best schools in Somalia. We learn both religion and science and my favorite course is Turkish,” Leyla added.

Since 2011, TDV has built centers for the disabled, hospitals, and orphanages in Mogadishu.

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Somali graduates praise peace, harmony and good social development in Malaysia

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Somali graduates Abbas Mohamad Mahdi , 28 (left), and Ahmed Derow Isak, 32, from Mogadishu, are determined to return home and work in their home country after completing both their Bachelor and Master degrees in Information Technology. Pix by Amran Hamid

SINTOK: Despite the unrest in some parts of their country, two Somali graduates from Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) are keen to return home to serve the people.

Abbas Mohamad Mahdi, 28, and Ahmed Derow Isak, 32, from Mogadishu, are determined to return home and work in their home country after completing both their Bachelor and Master degrees in Information Technology.

The duo received their Master of Science (Information Technology) from UUM Pro-chancellor Tan Sri Osman Aroff today.

Abbas said as the second of six siblings, he wanted to support his younger siblings to further their education.

“My father passed away when I was eight years old and my mother raised the family by doing odd jobs.

“I was able to further my studies here thanks to my elder sister and a younger brother who helped me financially,” he said when met.

Abbas said he chose to come to UUM after he heard about it from friends who had furthered their studies at the university.

He initially planned to further his studies in Sudan but when he came to know about the peace, harmony and good social development enjoyed by Malaysians, he decided to come here to study.

Ahmed Derow said life in Malaysia was better than Somalia but he would still return home to work in his own country.

“My wife is there and so are my siblings who have helped to finance my studies here.

I will use the knowledge and experience I gained in this country to give back to my people back home,” he said.

Ahmad Derow said although his mother has migrated to United Kingdom and he could further his studies there, the cost that he need to bear was too high.

He said Malaysians should be grateful by the various benefits that they enjoy especially in the furthering their studies locally.

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