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Zamzam Farah and Jamie Giles appeared on British Muslim TV’s Sisters’ Hour. Zamzam shared her experience of being a woman in sport and what this had meant for her growing up in Somalia. She also discussed her time at the London 2012 Olympics and how she met The Running Charity and her mentor, Jamie. Jamie describes his time with Zamzam and The Running Charity, and how his passion for running aids him as a mentor.

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Minnesota

Fartun Ahmed is first Somali-American woman elected to a school board in the country

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LAKESHORE WEEKLY — HOPKINS — Fartun Ahmed was elected to Hopkins school board Tuesday Nov. 7, making her the first Somali woman in the country to be elected to a school board and the second to be elected to public office.

She campaigned as part of a bloc with Chris LaTondresse and Jen Westmoreland-Bouchard under the message that every family in the school district should be able to access the resources they need to understand the system.

Campaigning against Steve Semler and Kevin Bennett, the bloc won the three open seats. Turnout was nearby double that of two years ago — 21,501 people voted for school board candidates in this year’s election; 12,159 votes were cast in 2015.

“It shows our district is ready to move forward,” Ahmed said. “It shows our district is open to connecting and engaging with someone despite the differences they may have.”

The three campaigned as a tight ensemble. They door-knocked every weekend in October, met with students and attended school board meetings. Neighborhoods even organized gatherings to meet the candidates.

People frequently recognized who they were upon opening the door, Barb Westmoreland said. Westmoreland is the mother of board member-elect Westmoreland-Bouchard. She described how Fartun felt after a day of door-knocking:

“For many of these people, they just had a lot of questions. They were really curious; they wanted to talk with a Muslim woman who wears a hijab,” Westmoreland said.

Ahmed, 26, was born in Somalia and moved to the United States when she was 3. With her family, she moved around Minnesota for a while before settling in Hopkins. As the oldest of eight children, Ahmed was the first in her immediate family to attend school.

She finished high school in 2009 with a GPA of 4.0 and moved on to study at Metropolitan State University. During her undergraduate years, Ahmed was appointed to committees formed by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. Later, she obtained a full-ride dual masters from the University of Chicago.

“She’s a standard bearer for her family,” Westmoreland said. “First one to go to college, she has a master’s degree … for her to come back to this community and say ‘I really want to be a part of it and I want to make it better,’ I just admire her so much for these values.”

Ahmed is grateful for Hopkins Schools and the resources the district provided for her family when she entered schools, she said.

“It shows you what America is that my parents — who had no idea, who had never went to school, who don’t even know how to read or write in Somali — can raise this daughter who can be elected to a political position in an office,” she said, “and that’s what America is.”

However, despite the district’s efforts, the resources at hand right now don’t match the need for the 45 percent who are students of color, Ahmed said.

Working as an executive director at her family’s Family Resource and Childcare Center gave her insight. Family after family came in, addled in trying to navigate the school system. Many families with whom she spoke changed their minds to stay in Hopkins, but others left to open-enroll in neighboring districts.

Leaders in the community should understand the issues varying community members are facing, Ahmed said.

On the day before the election, Ahmed’s 8-year-old sister wrote her a letter for good luck, saying she looks up to her oldest sister.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this is because I want her to grow up in a community where she knows her leaders and people will listen to her and people will respect her,” Ahmed said.

The campaign results proved that people underestimate their own community, she said. Hopkins was ready for leaders in public office who reflected a cross-section of the community.

Westmoreland said the relationships the trio formed with voters throughout the past several months will propel them into office.

“I feel a great sense of hope,” Westmoreland said, “and I think a lot of other people do, too. Everybody’s looking for goodness in our own community, that we really want to work together to make sure everyone’s life here is good and going well.”

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Somaliland

Almost all Somaliland women have undergone female genital mutilation

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In a breakthrough for the campaign against female genital mutilation, the three candidates in Somaliland’s presidential election — all of them men — have said they will seek to ban the practice.

On Monday, the self-declared state in east Africa will elect a new president — and all the candidates have pledged to outlaw the barbaric practice following a campaign backed by the Standard.

About 98 per cent of women in the former British colony, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991, have undergone FGM.

London campaigner Nimco Ali travelled to Somaliland to lobby the three main political parties on the issue. They all met her and promised to bring in legislation to end the procedure.

Frontrunner Musa Bihi Abdi writes today in this newspaper that ending FGM in Somaliland will “complete the circle of a campaign that the Evening Standard has done so much to highlight over the last five years; the campaign to end the practice of FGM or female genital mutilation”.

Ms Ali said: “I can’t explain how beautiful it is or how overwhelmed I am that these things are materialising.

“When I first started campaigning there was a lot of shame, stigma and fear, but now there is hope, conviction and pride.

I am so honoured they met me and what a level of respect I have for each and every one of them.”

Ms Ali met Faisal Ali Warabe of the UCID party, a representative for Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi of the Waddani party, and Mr Abdi of the Kulmiye party.

She offered to work for free for 100 days as a gender adviser to whoever becomes president. She was so shocked by the men’s positive responses that she “high-fived them in delight”.

Musa Bihi Abdi

Presidential Candidate of Kulmlye Party

In the next few days, I hope and believe that I will become the fifth president of the Republic of Somaliland. If I do, I will lead an administration that will complete the circle of a campaign that the Evening Standard has done so much to highlight over the last five years; the campaign to end the practice of FGM.

Despite amazing successes against the odds, Somaliland continues to have among the highest rates of girls undergoing FGM. But the country is on the cusp of genuine and profound change that could end this.

Why? Firstly there is a broad social movement on this issue of activists, health workers, educationalists and Islamic scholars who are educating rural and urban communities about FGM and advocating for its end. It’s having a real impact. Women who have been “cut” are now saying they will not do it to the next generation.

This is remarkable, given how much of a taboo this was until recently.

Nimco Ali, who was born in Somaliland, was instrumental in getting the law on FGM changed in the UK. She has worked with all three political parties in Somaliland. But this is a campaign with roots here, which is why I believe it can succeed.

The remarkable Edna Adan, an African health pioneer and former foreign minister of Somaliland, has worked on this issue for over 40 years. Now many midwife students are not only being taught about the health complications of FGM but how to spread the word about ending it.

In August, 180 of our religious leaders took part in a conference exploring the medical details of FGM and its grave risks for girls.

Ending FGM in Somaliland will also complete the circle in another way. Having been outlawed in the UK, it will make it harder for anyone from the diaspora to come to Somaliland to have it carried out here.

What is needed now is the political leadership to bring focus and clarity to this campaign led by Somaliland’s hundreds of activists and campaigners.

If I am elected president, I will do exactly that. FGM is about gender equality. For such a young nation like Somaliland to be so committed to ending it also shows it is committed to genuine democracy and is a rare example in such a troubled region.
The presidential election is seen as one of the few genuinely positive events in the region at the moment.

Nearly 800,000 voters have been registered for the first election in Africa to use iris-recognition software to prevent electoral fraud.

Ms Ali said: “The candidates were incredibly busy travelling from one city to another campaigning. For them to make time and speak so patiently and openly about something so deeply-rooted and stigmatised was amazing.
“We are meant to be ashamed of this thing, but by talking about it it showed how progressive they are.

“They were all super-informed about FGM but were waiting for someone to give them the legitimacy to talk about it.” She admitted that speaking to the men about the issue was daunting, but added: “Ending FGM through legislation is the key thing for a place where prevalence levels are so high.

“It is fundamental to the success of Somaliland. It cannot be successful if the women are repressed.”

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Diaspora

Somali Refugee Uses Art Therapy to Help Others in Egypt

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VOA — Egypt remains a destination and transit point for refugees and asylum seekers. While most of them have come from Syria, the numbers fleeing conflict and persecution in sub-Saharan Africa have also grown in recent years. For VOA in Cairo, Sofia Christensen reports on one Somali woman using art therapy to help herself and other refugees move on.

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