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Somali girls make history on St. Cloud swim team



Kelly Smith

They are the first Muslim girls to compete for their St. Cloud high school swim team, and they say they’ve felt nothing but support from their coach, teammates.

ST. CLOUD – Suhan Mohamed has found a welcoming community in a surprising place.

Only two months ago, she and Apollo High School classmate Nimo Gohe didn’t have a clue about how to swim. Now, the two Somali teens are making history, becoming the first Muslim girls to join the school’s team and two of the first to swim competitively in the state.

“I don’t think they understand what barriers they’re breaking down in the community,” said Alex Badger, Apollo’s head coach.

As this central Minnesota city of 67,000 people has become increasingly diverse in recent years, its growing Somali population has frequently been the victim of anti-Muslim, racist incidents. But, Mohamed and Gohe say they’ve felt nothing but support at Apollo, emboldening them to become trailblazers.

“They didn’t make us feel like we didn’t know anything,” Mohamed, 18, said of the swim team. “They were so nice to us.”

Nearly half of the 1,400 students at Apollo are students of color. Of those, about 30 percent are Somali, which has prompted the school to hire more English language teachers like Badger.

But cultural norms and poverty (more than 60 percent of students qualify for free and reduced meals) have kept many girls from participating in athletics, leaving local teams struggling to fill rosters.

In recent years, Activities Director Dave Langerud has met with Muslim parents to encourage their daughters to join teams; a few girls took up soccer and track. “Of all the sports in the world, the last sport I’d think you’d get girls of Muslim faith is swimming,” Langerud said, nodding to religious and cultural values that stress modesty.

Making history

Badger, 28, saw opportunity in the challenge.

Like her students, she’s new to Minnesota, moving from the East Coast four years ago with her husband, a Twin Cities native. As Apollo’s new head swimming coach, she set a goal to recruit girls who may have never considered swimming.

“If you’re interested in putting your face in the water, welcome to the team,” she told them. “This is about opening doors for all swimmers.”

When the volleyball team made final roster cuts, Badger showed up to sell her sport to the girls who were cut. She touted swimming to English language learners, too. And on a hot July day, she had a free swim camp, driving a rented van around St. Cloud to pick up kids interested in participating.

Mohamed and Gohe got more than a swim lesson. They joined the team, made up of mostly white students who had been swimming for years. “I didn’t see other Somali kids who swam,” Mohamed said. “I was excited to start.”

To accommodate their Muslim faith, Badger found black burkinis and full-body swimsuits for Mohamed and Gohe. Because the suits didn’t comply with Minnesota State High School League regulations, she also got a rare waiver from the league.

When Mohamed and Gohe showed up for practice one day, they saw the rest of the team had changed their suits, too, trading the usual red, white and blue swimwear for mostly black suits that matched theirs.

“They’re putting themselves out there and setting an example for other girls,” team captain Rachel Warner said of Mohamed and Gohe. “And it takes so much courage.”

Inspiring others

At a home meet last week, “Welcome Willmar!” was scrawled on a white board as parents and siblings filled the bleachers at the Apollo pool.

The school doesn’t have the fastest swim team in Minnesota, but it may be the loudest, as its swimmers raucously cheered from the beginning to the end of the two-hour meet.

As an announcer called out the 50-yard freestyle, Mohamed strapped on goggles and stepped up to the block in lane 8. The buzzer sounded.

As she dove in the water, Gohe and teammates leaned over the pool’s edge, screaming “Go! Go! Go!” The swimmers reached the end of the pool, turned and headed back.

Despite the cheers, Mohamed finished last. Still, she was all smiles as she high-fived a swimmer from the opposing team.

The youngest of four children, Mohamed joined her family in St. Cloud from Somalia two years ago.

Each weekday, after classes and two-hour practices, she drives to Walmart to work for four hours as a cashier until 10:30 p.m. Then she gets up early for practice or to do homework, keeping mostly A’s in preparation for college.

Apollo’s swim team, made up of girls in grades 7-12, is small and fairly young. Unlike swimmers from more affluent cities, Badger said, many girls on the team, which hasn’t won a meet in years, don’t swim year-round. There are no tryouts or cuts.

“We take anyone and everyone,” said junior Kaylie Stroeing, a team captain.

Hours after last week’s meet ended and the school hallways turned dark, Mohamed, Gohe and their teammates dished out pastas from Crock-Pots in the cafeteria. It didn’t matter to Badger that her team had lost — she’s winning over new swimmers, already inspiring other Somali girls to join.

“If your goal is to just be the fastest possible program, maybe it’s really hard to outreach and find new swimmers,” Badger said. “But if your goal is to increase numbers and be more inclusive, it absolutely made sense for me to reach out to these girls.”

Langerud, the activities director, said he’s amazed by what Mohamed and Gohe have done.

“I actually cried when they jumped in the water,” he said. “They’re going to be the biggest advocates for other kids. They’re going to change the world.”

Briefing Room

US Targets Islamic State in North Eastern Somalia



WASHINGTON / PENTAGON / LONDON — A U.S. airstrike has targeted Islamic State in northern Somalia, defense officials told VOA Friday.

The strike resulted in at least one casualty, a U.S. defense official said, without elaborating on the target of the attack.

The chairman of the town of Qandala, Jama Mohamed Qurshe, told VOA Somali that several missiles hit a base for IS militants at Buqa village, 60 kilometers south of his town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

“According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area. Local residents and pastorialists were shocked and fled from the area,” Qurshe said.

He said that prior to the strike, residents reporting hearing airplane sounds.

Details of the strike are still not clear due to the remoteness of the area, which locals said was only accessible to the militants; however, local officials and residents suspect the airstrike targeted the group’s senior leaders and perhaps even its top leader.

The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.

Since the emergence of the IS faction in October 2015, the militants have claimed responsibility for at least four deadly attacks in Puntland.

In late October of last year, the militants briefly seized Qandala, before they were driven out by Puntland’s government.

No cutoff in funding

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has denied reports that it is planning to cut funding for the Somali government.

Somali media reports said the U.S. might reduce funding because unnamed Somali officials helped facilitate the October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.

There were also reports that linked the alleged cut to an internal State Department finding that the department’s Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that U.S. funding is not diverted to al-Shabab militants.

In an email, a State Department official told VOA the reports were “incorrect.”

“Reports of funding being suspended to the Somali army due to alleged facilitation of the bombings by Somali officials are incorrect,” the official wrote. “The United States continues to provide extensive support to Somali security forces in their efforts to combat al-Shabab.”

On Wednesday, the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, quoted a report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. The report said the Africa Bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programs in countries where militant organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram operate.

In his email, the State Department official said, “The United States prioritizes transparency and accountability in its partnership with Somalia, echoing one of the top priorities articulated by President Farmaajo upon his taking office earlier this year.”

“We have communicated conditions for U.S. security assistance to the federal government of Somalia, which includes enhanced measures to ensure proper oversight of our support,” he added.

Meanwhile, Somali leaders and the governors of Somali states are meeting for the fourth straight day in Mogadishu, in an effort to agree on implementation of a joint security plan.

The government is said to be preparing for a major offensive against al-Shabab.

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Somali News

Egypt’s Sisi stresses unity, sovereignty of Somalia



Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi stressed on Wednesday his country’s firm stance towards the unity and sovereignty of the Somalia.

Sisi’s remarks came during a phone call with his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, state-run MENA News Agency reported.

During the phone conversation, the two leaders discussed means of enhancing joint ties besides promoting bilateral cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism and extremism.
They also reviewed the latest developments in Somalia and the efforts of the Somali government to restore security and stability so as to fulfill the aspirations of the Somali people in achieving development.

For his part, Farmajo lauded the Egyptian stance backing his country and the support it offers in attaining stability.

He further voiced his keenness on continuing the high-level coordination and consultations with Egypt pertaining to various issues of common interest topped by combating terrorism and bolstering joint cooperation in various domains.

Egypt and Somalia have been facing rising waves of terror acts carried out by Islamist groups that left hundreds of civilians, army personnel and policemen dead.

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Opinion: Reasons Why Somalia’s president Farmaajo is becoming Africa’s Most Popular Beloved President



Suud Olat is Minnesota Based freelance journalist and refugees advocate founder of Refugees Forum and Advocacy.

Ever since his historic election in February as a President of Somalia Mohamed A  Farmajo has been a subject of public fascination. At first, his war on graft promised to cleanse the state of corruption, while his patriotic thrift inspired millions of Somali people.

Despite terrorism attacks recently the deadly  on October 14,2017 president vows to eradicate Alshabab terrorists out of Somalia declaring full preparations for large-scale offensive against Al-Shabab..

Months ago he turns down $80m to cut ties with Qatar

He has been offered $80 million in exchange for his agreement to sever diplomatic relations with the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Qatar.

President Farmaajo improved rapidly Somalias relations to the rest of the world we all know all sovereign states in today’s world are interdependent regardless of how small or big are. What guides each sovereign state in relation to others or even international organisations is the foreign policy, whose one of the main contents is about diplomacy.

President Farmaajo has prioritize building strong relations nations like Turkey. Much credit to Turkeys had played a key role and take a lion share on supporting Somali people. Weeks ago Turkey opens military base in Mogadishu to train Somali soldiers. Turkeys’s biggest overseas military base. As Experts and political analysts say Diplomacy is to a nation what brain is to a person. President Farmaajo”.quickly,appointed,capable,competent,good and able prime minister Hassan Ali Khayre Despite in office less than a year he gained widespread public support for several innovations, including halving the size of the cabinet and seeking to increase transparency in government.

Still despite major terrorist attacks government has made long strides in creating a peaceful Somalia, making  to be named Somalia’s prime minster among ’most influential politicians in Somali’s history. Government efforts at advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms in Somalia were cited as the reasons for the government progress a truth that is globally acknowledged, and which earned massive confidence Somali people and the mainly government donors and friends international community .

However, Somali government has also faced numerous external setbacks that prevented holding the entire

Somalia in control, especially from Al Shabaab, which had conducted terrorism attacks both in Somalia and  in Kenya. Now government is putting up measures aimed at curbing the insecurity challenges. The neighboring governments, of Djibouti,Kenya and Ethiopia on the other hand, are trying now to assist Somali Federal government in eliminating Al Shabaab once and for all, and this is worth mentioning.

Somali Federal government has also faced internal setbacks- conflicts among with the Somali regional leaders on the issue regarding , the recent federal government neutral position on the Arab Gulf crisis which most corrupt regional leaders try to undermine federal government leadership neutral positions.

While majority of Somali are happy with the current political situation in Somalia. Recently, President of Somalia recently joined with the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutress and other world leaders in Kampala, Uganda at the major refugees in the region donor Confrence were historic Somali President generously donated 100,000 US dollars. And have also ordered foreign affairs and internal ministry to review numerous occasions previous government signed past agreements on the voluntary repatriation of the half a million Somali refugees in Dadaab camps. The assumption was that Somalia was eventually standing on its feet.

Knowing  unilaterally Kenya government ordered for the closure of Dadaab camps  after adjournment of the tripartite agreement, which had met an outcry from the international community. Still, the Somali refugees are receiving an orgy of threats from the Kenyan government.

Federal Government of Somalia set up  plans and committees to collaborate the UN refugees agency UNHCR and regional governments especially Jubaland were most refugees returning. Assuring Federal government to ensure the safety of the refugees upon their return back to Somalia, although that seems impossible if the current insecurity and terrorism attacks continue.

To keep Somali people dreams alive and real the only way out for the president to meet the expectations of the Somali people. while being very careful in making decisions was who will he appoint a prime minister although mistakes are the order of the day in politics, repeating the same mistakes will have surely cost the government to lose trust among the people. President Of Somalia knew that the nation needs a strong prime minister who knows how to solve the Somali problems since he was  previously being tested the waters of politics. He had chosen as a prime minster Hassan Khayre a qualified; patriot, intellectual, bureaucrat, who feels the pain of the people. Although it’ was  difficult to know such a person. President Farmaajo seek suggestions from the Somali intellectuals, religious groups and even  fellow politicians. A knew path avoid culture of future infighting between prime minster and president which had hindered in the past administrations as well on clan basis, competitiveness the core of the prolonged Somali conflicts.

Considering the fact that the Somali youth are entitled to take part in making political decisions, and his campaign pledges

May he Rest In Peace Abbas Siraji was among the cabinet young minister ever in the history of Somalia on May 3, 2017 gun men with government uniforms gunned and killed minster Abass down town Mogdishu. Speaking at the UN general assembly Somalia prime minister uses Abass Siraji as a role model and good example for the Somali youth.

Upon getting vote of confidence from

Somali parliament prime minister Hassan Kheyree government has made remarkable progress. strong support from the Somali people. Although the killing of Abass  immediately met with anger and solidarity protests from the general public and from many lawmakers. Now Somali government now gain trust among the Somali people. And the government approval getting up day by day.

Vast administration experience.

c) Government strictness and familiarity with the protocols of classical democracies.

d) His diplomatic demeanor.

e) completed its first monthly payment of stipends to government soldiers, and it has also initiated the implementation of a biometric register for the security forces within a window of four months. This was a great achievement that had proved Somali Federal government seriousness and its capability to make Somalia stable.

f) On  dispatching a high level federal delegations defuse clan-based tensions in several regions. This way has returned back the cordiality among different Somali clans, paving way for peaceful relations.

g) To improve transparency in the government, cabinet ministers fully disclosed transparency and signed a code of ethics.

h) An Anti-Corruption Commission with the power to carry out formal investigations and to review government decisions and protocols was also established so as to monitor public officials more closely

i) Unnecessary trips to abroad have been fully prohibited and all travels required the Premier’s consent.

j) On the war front, his tenure managed to secure control of 90% of Mugadishu, the capital of Somalia.

With his  Excellency, President Farmaajo administration creates unique protocols that will definitely make sure Federal government to fulfill the promises it had made to the Somali people. We hope that President farmaajo and the Somali prime minister, to keep this momentum and address refugees issues more closely Dadaab will be a dead story and for Somalia will regain peace and stability, and the refugees will then return back to their country.

Suud Olat is Minnesota Based freelance journalist and refugees advocate founder of Refugees Forum and Advocacy.

Follow him on Twitter @SuudM or email him

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