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How a Somali-born girl became a referee of men’s football in England – the remarkable story of Jawahir Roble

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Many people might believe their battle for respect in life is hard enough already without also trying to become a referee.

It is a thought not lost on Jawahir Roble. “Who would ever think a black, Somali-born immigrant girl with eight siblings could ref a men’s game in England with a hijab on?” she asks with a gentle shake of the head while reflecting on a remarkable personal journey.

Known as Jawahir Jewels, or JJ to her friends, the 23-year-old is sitting with Standard Sport at Wembley ahead of England’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia as a guest of the Football Association, just a few weeks after winning the Match Official gong at the organisation’s 2017 Respect Awards. Eleven winners were chosen from more than 1,000 nominations, with JJ recognised for her volunteering work at education charity Football Beyond Borders (FFB) and Middlesex FA, coaching FFB’s first ever women’s team and reaching her Level Six referee qualification.

“I want to keep going with it and one day I could be refereeing here,” she says, casting an envious eye across the luscious Wembley turf. “Imagine! That would be a dream.

“To get recognised at this level it empowers all of us at grassroots level.

“There are not many people I can look up to. Of course, I can look up to Mark Clattenburg but that’s a high level. There’s nobody at grassroots like me. Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation needs to rise but with the support of the FA that is happening.”

Jawahir Roble talks to James Olley at Wembley Photo: Nigel Howard & Acirc

Scepticism of her chosen path began at primary school age and extremely close to home in north-west London. “My parents were not so keen on my involvement in football at first because they thought I was embarrassing them,” said JJ. “In my culture, you wouldn’t see many girls interested in football. But I always knew. It really started when my brother was five years old, I’d nominate myself to take him across London.

“Every Saturday and Sunday I would take him on the bus, train whatever it took. My parents accepted it as they wouldn’t then have to get up at the weekends. We’d be out for hours and come home muddy, hungry and everyone would ask if I was tired but I would just say ‘this is beautiful’. People wanted me to do something ‘girly’ but I knew this was the real deal for me.

“I was so into playing. Teachers were like ‘JJ, you aren’t getting the work done’. Early in the morning, lunchtimes, after school, Saturday and Sundays in the park without any kit just playing in our skirts. I’d do kick-ups and the boys would ask, ‘How are you running in your skirt?’ Don’t you get hot in your hijab?’ I’m like, ‘Nah, its calm.’”

‘In my culture, you wouldn’t see many girls interested in football. But I knew this was the real deal for me’
Jawahir

It becomes clear from just 20 minutes in her company that this boundless enthusiasm is at the root of her deep determination and desire, rather than any sense of inequality or injustice. Refereeing was a by-product of redirecting that energy once it became clear a playing career was unlikely.

JJ started officiating in 2012 after reluctantly agreeing to take charge of a Capital Girls League game at short notice. While also coaching and volunteering with a range of young age groups, she took a refereeing course through Middlesex FA and gradually progressed through the ranks.

“Most people either become players or if that doesn’t happen, they figure that’s the end,” she said. “Yet there are so many roles you can have in football and refereeing is one of them. I’m still coaching, volunteering and managing, too.”

But has she found it difficult to be accepted as a referee, particularly in the often unforgiving environs of amateur London football? “When I’m doing a men’s game, they probably watch the news and there are some sick-heads but almost all of them are actually supportive,” she replies. “As soon as I blow the whistle, all of the rubbish that happens in the world literally doesn’t count during that 90 minutes. Sport should be an escape. My parents give me their full support now.”

Standing just over five feet tall, the physical mismatch with some players would be daunting for many but, again, typically as it turns out, JJ takes it in her stride. “I get in the middle of it. I’m like, ‘Excuse me guys, we’re not here to fight – this is a nice game, don’t ruin it.’”

JJ currently earns around £35 per game – £20-£25 if officiating as a referee’s assistant – and could take charge of as many as five games a week. Ultimately, she wants to referee in the Women’s Super League.

“I can’t wait until I get to the top,” she said. “It is a long journey but I am going to give it my best and hopefully make my dream a reality.

“I am getting more recognition now and that’s big because I see myself as a role model. I want to help more girls get into the game. They don’t have to be footballers but there is so much else to achieve. Impossible is nothing.”

She is proving just that.

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Diaspora

Somali Man charged the deaths of 4 in fatal I-55 accident

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STAUTON, IL – A Colorado truck driver has been charged following an investigation into a multi-vehicle accident that killed 4 people and injured 11 others. Mohamed Jama, 54, of Greeley, Colorado, turned himself in to the Madison County Jail Monday.

The accident happened on southbound I-55 in Madison County on November 21, 2017.

The fatal accident killed 2 sisters, Madisen and Hailey Bertels and a friend, Tori Carroll, and an out of state woman, Vivian Vu in another vehicle.

Authorities say the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer driven by Mohamed Jama failed to slow down and stop for cars in front of him in a construction zone.

By the time it was all over, 7 vehicles were damaged and the people inside them injured or killed.

The sisters attended high school in Staunton.

The deaths deeply touched Staunton where people knew the young women or knew people who were their friends. Many in town were still grieving the loss. Matthew Batson said, “I’ll hear stories about them all the time, even though it’s been five months? Yes, it’s a lasting effect.”

The Madison County State`s Attorney Tom Gibbon said if convicted of all the crimes Mohamed Jama could spend the rest of his life in prison. With summer coming on and more construction zone Gibbons says there`s a warning for all of us.

“Each of us out there in our cars we really need to pay attention, watch out, slow down you never want to see something like this to happen again it so terrible for all the victim I’m sure that no person would want to be the cause of something like this.”

Jama is charged with 4 counts of reckless homicide and 8 counts of reckless driving. He`s being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.

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Books

CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing

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EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”

That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.

After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.

Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.

“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.

Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.

“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.

She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”

Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.

“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.

She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.

“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”

Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.

“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.

The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.

She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.

“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”

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Minnesota

When radicalization lured two Somali teenagers … from Norway

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Mukhtar Ibrahim

In October 2013, two Somali teenage girls named Ayan and Leila shocked their parents by running away to join ISIS in Syria. Their radicalization story is unusual in that it happened in Norway.

Acclaimed Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad spent years researching what happened. Now her book, “Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad” is available in the United States.

Seierstad, who discusses her book Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, said she didn’t go looking for the story.

“The story actually came to me,” she said. “It was the father of the girls who actually wanted the story to be written.”

His name is Sadiq, a Somali man who worked for years to bring his family to Norway. He hoped for a better life. He thought things were going well, then everything collapsed when Ayan and Leila disappeared.

When the girls left home, their parents were in shock, Seierstad said. “They hadn’t understood what was this about. Why? And then as months went by and they got to learn more about radicalization, they realized that all the signs had been there. That the girls were like a textbook case of radicalization. And he [Sadiq] wanted the book to be written to warn others, to tell this story to warn other parents.”

It is a perplexing story. Ayan and Leila were bright, and opinionated. They didn’t put up with being pushed around.

“And that is somehow part of why they left, in their logic,” said Seierstad, adding that the girls were convinced Syria and ISIS offered a chance of eternal life.

“They believed that life here and now is not real life. Real life happens after death. And this life is only important as a test. So the better your score, the better you behave in this life, the better position you will have in heaven for eternity. So isn’t that better?”

Seierstad is known for her in-depth reporting. Her book “One of Us,” about Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terror attack, is an international best-seller.

When published in Norway Seierstad said, “Two Sisters” became the top-selling book for two years running. What pleases her most is the breadth of her readership. She gets email from young Somali girls, and also from government officials who want to prevent future radicalization.

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