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    A Community Gathering Place

    DAY 54

    Discovery Near Home

    Minnesota is home to the American Refugee Committee’s international headquarters, the base from which ARC operates its programs serving refugees in 11 countries worldwide. The state is also home to the largest community of Somali immigrants and refugees in North America. The last week or so, we’ve been taking small actions in our local community to create big impact. And today, we’re reaching out alongside our neighbors to support Somali small business owners right here in Minnesota.

    Karmel Square Mall is located in the heart of Minneapolis, located just a few blocks from the intersection of Lyndale and Lake Street. Home to dozens of Somali businesses – clothing stores, henna salons, import/export businesses – 80% of the shops in Karmel are women-owned and run. Entrepreneurs lend each other seed money to get businesses off the ground, with repayment based on social contracts rather then the legal variety. It’s a center of the Somali community in Minnesota, a center of the community in the Midwest.

    “When you come to Karmel, you never know who you’ll meet,” said Said Sheik-Abdi, our host and ARC Partnerships Officer. “I was getting a haircut a few years ago, and I met a childhood friend I hadn’t seen since we were kids. In 2001, I ran into a young lady who lived on my street in Mogadishu. She was like a little sister, and I hadn’t seen her since ten years before.”

    On Day 54, we wanted to support refugee business owners at Karmel and introduce new folks to the mall and lunch at a great little Somali restaurant. A group of ARC supporters joined us on the ground floor as Said brought us through the shops describing the products for sale and introducing us to business owners. Some never knew Karmel was even there, and the rest had wanted to check it out but never had the opportunity.

    At lunchtime, we headed up to Wiilo restaurant (named for the woman who owns the place) on the 3rd floor of the mall. Wiilo owned a restaurant in Nairobi for 12 years before she came to Minnesota and opened her place in Karmel. “Thank you so much for coming.” It’s small, just a few tables – but it was full the entire time we were there and customers were circulating constantly picking up orders to go. Wiilo served us a feast – a delicious vegetable soup, salad, rice, chicken curry, fried chicken, fish filet, veggie sambusas and cookies and treats for dessert. And of course, the banana – “lunch without a banana, is not a lunch,” or so Said says many Somalis will tell you.

    When lunch was finished, Said showed us the mall’s mosque. At prayer times shop owners and shoppers alike can make their way to the mosque to pray.

    It was a short visit to Karmel Mall, but everyone was thrilled to have had the chance. “The food was amazing, and the environment was intoxicating. Seeing people get along and having the freedom to express themselves. Not to mention the smiles,” said Stefan, a St.Thomas graduate student who never even knew Karmel existed. “We need more places like this.”

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    Changemakers 365

    by Alight


    The world’s tough problems can seem insurmountable. So at Alight, while we tackle those big problems we also do what’s doable. Right then. And that’s what Changemakers 365 is all about. Learn more!


    Changemakers 365 members give either $30 per month or a one-time gift of $365 (it’s free for anyone who has ever lived in a refugee camp). Join us!

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