Yusuf Ali and Maka Ahmed
Different Worlds – Where Yusuf Ali and his wife, Maka Ahmed, grew up, they did not have a Mall of America or Twins baseball games. In Somalia, life for them was fraught with the challenges of basic survival.
Fortunately, Yusuf and Maka were able to stay strong and gain residency in a much safer and more stable environment in Minnesota, where they now live with their four children. Although they live thousands of miles away from the country they once called “home,” they have not forgotten the Somali people who are still suffering. “I never forget,” says Maka. “I think about them every day.”
“We give 10% of our income and time back to that community. We know what people left behind are going through,” explains Yusuf. “Mentally, we never left.”
Over the past few years the couple has been active in promoting awareness of the severe conditions in which Somalis live in their war-stricken home country.
“Last year 25,000 children died during the month that I was visiting Somalia,” shares Yusuf. “There was a woman who walked for 30 days while carrying her baby just to get food.”
“Here, my older kids complain when I’m not home to prepare food for them; there, kids cry because they don’t have any food at all,” adds Maka.“
Yusuf’s intention is not to depress people with sad stories and pictures. He and Maka want to encourage people to give by telling them that there are ways to help the Somali people, that hope is far from lost.
“I formed a Somalia Advisory Counsel in Minnesota, which guides the American Refugee Committee in the work they do in Somalia,” says Yusuf. “A year ago we started 1,000 Giving $1,000. If 1,000 people raise $1,000, then that’s a million dollars!” The money is funding the establishment of a center in Somalia, where male teens will gain skills in mechanics, carpentry, and construction, among others. “Having the center will give people jobs and hope, and reduce extremism and violence,” adds Yusuf.
Meanwhile, troubled Somali male youths in Minnesota, which is now home to the largest Somali community in the U.S., are conquering battles of a different nature.
“Children come here when they’re five or six years old and may not have parents who speak English, or may not even have a mother or a father. They aren’t given the guidance they need, and many times they end up in trouble at school or worse – in jail.
“Through mentorship from IBOs, we’ve been able to help these kids. One 19-year old is in his last year of high school and is about to be Platinum. In October he said to someone that he had been selling drugs a year ago,” shares Yusuf.
What the Future Holds
Yusuf and Maka are currently working with the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and plan to open a college for K–6 teachers in Somalia. Their goal is to reach Double Diamond by 2015.
“We need to be financially stronger so that we can fund our initiatives and have more time to travel to raise awareness,” says Yusuf.
“We do whatever we can do,” says Maka. “If you give, you get.”