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Somali asylum seeker volunteers in local German fire brigade

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UNHCR — “When people are in need of help at a certain time and I am in the right place to provide it, this makes me happy,” he said.
Then, in 2014, Yusuf was forced to flee again, this time to escape being forcibly recruited into Yemen’s own conflict. After a long journey, he arrived in Germany in July 2015 – but his wife and two children are still trapped in Yemen.

With his experience as a volunteer, it seemed natural for Yusuf to put himself forward for service in Germany. When his German teacher suggested the idea of the volunteer fire brigade, he jumped at the chance. It has also helped Yusuf. Not a man who likes to sit still, the voluntary work challenges him and helps to ease his worries about his family for a few hours. Today, his German is better than his English and he can talk with his colleagues freely.

And he has already played a key role. Last year, the local fire brigade was repeatedly called to accommodation centres for asylum-seekers in Stahnsdorf and Oranienburg because residents were accidentally setting off the fire alarms.
Yusuf was able to explain to them in Arabic and Somali how the alarm system worked, as well as where the assembly points and escape routes were in case of fire. In fact, he has made such a difference that the ‘Ohne Blaulicht’ (Without the Blue Light) project, organized by the Brandenburg Fire Brigade Association with government funding, will now be extended to other accommodation centres.

“We are grateful for their support.”

Jörn Müller, fire chief in Fürstenwalde, has been happy to welcome Yusuf and other newcomers into his brigade. “We are grateful for their support,” added Hans-Ulrich Hengst, Mayor of Fürstenwalde.

Hartmut Ziebs, President of the German Fire Brigade Association, is also a strong supporter of Germany’s 3,000 refugee firefighters and the positive impact they have had, calling such integration efforts “important and meaningful”.

The country’s voluntary fire brigades, with their 1.1 million members, are deeply rooted in German society, especially in the countryside. They have the ability to form bonds between newcomers and locals unlike any other organization and are a place to learn German and establish contacts that can help new arrivals find work and become financially independent.

Yusuf will receive his new firefighter’s uniform, a sturdy, sand-coloured protective suit with red reflective strips that is tailored to his measurements. The firefighter in charge of allocating uniforms adds a helmet and safety boots to Yusuf’s equipment – an investment in those members of the brigade “who have proven themselves”, he said and smiled.

FURSTENWALDE, Germany – In the vehicle bay of Fürstenwalde-Mitte fire station, a young volunteer checks the gears of a large fire engine. Yusuf Abdirahim, a 37-year-old asylum-seeker, knows what he is doing. He has been a member of this brigade for almost as long as he has been in Germany.

Volunteer firefighters like him come to the station in Fürstenwalde, a small town an hour’s drive from Berlin, for training once a week. An instructor named Sebastian is asking each of them to explain how the equipment functions.

Yusuf has already completed a basic training course called ‘Truppmann 1’, but before he can go on his first real rescue or firefighting mission, he must pass more exams and improve his German. In emergency situations, knowing how to communicate effectively can mean the difference between life and death.

When people are in need of help… I am in the right place to provide it.”
However, Yusuf is no stranger to danger, or to working in the service of others.

Born in Somalia, he and his family fled the conflict to Yemen when he was only 11. There, he attended school and started a family before joining the Yemen Red Crescent Society in 2011, for which he distributed medical aid.

“When people are in need of help at a certain time and I am in the right place to provide it, this makes me happy,” he said.
Then, in 2014, Yusuf was forced to flee again, this time to escape being forcibly recruited into Yemen’s own conflict. After a long journey, he arrived in Germany in July 2015 – but his wife and two children are still trapped in Yemen.

With his experience as a volunteer, it seemed natural for Yusuf to put himself forward for service in Germany. When his German teacher suggested the idea of the volunteer fire brigade, he jumped at the chance. It has also helped Yusuf. Not a man who likes to sit still, the voluntary work challenges him and helps to ease his worries about his family for a few hours. Today, his German is better than his English and he can talk with his colleagues freely.

And he has already played a key role. Last year, the local fire brigade was repeatedly called to accommodation centres for asylum-seekers in Stahnsdorf and Oranienburg because residents were accidentally setting off the fire alarms.
Yusuf was able to explain to them in Arabic and Somali how the alarm system worked, as well as where the assembly points and escape routes were in case of fire. In fact, he has made such a difference that the ‘Ohne Blaulicht’ (Without the Blue Light) project, organized by the Brandenburg Fire Brigade Association with government funding, will now be extended to other accommodation centres.

“We are grateful for their support.”

Jörn Müller, fire chief in Fürstenwalde, has been happy to welcome Yusuf and other newcomers into his brigade. “We are grateful for their support,” added Hans-Ulrich Hengst, Mayor of Fürstenwalde.

Hartmut Ziebs, President of the German Fire Brigade Association, is also a strong supporter of Germany’s 3,000 refugee firefighters and the positive impact they have had, calling such integration efforts “important and meaningful”.

The country’s voluntary fire brigades, with their 1.1 million members, are deeply rooted in German society, especially in the countryside. They have the ability to form bonds between newcomers and locals unlike any other organization and are a place to learn German and establish contacts that can help new arrivals find work and become financially independent.

Yusuf will receive his new firefighter’s uniform, a sturdy, sand-coloured protective suit with red reflective strips that is tailored to his measurements. The firefighter in charge of allocating uniforms adds a helmet and safety boots to Yusuf’s equipment – an investment in those members of the brigade “who have proven themselves”, he said and smiled.

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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