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Rolemodel: Jabarti on the Ottawa Citizen

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Well done Jabarti. Your hard work towards helping Somali youth will soon pay off. We solute you brother. Keep the nomad positivity going.


How Ottawa's newest immigrants are dealing with suburban life and a reputation for violence


Jabarti, the youth co-ordinator at the Somali Centre, runs basketball camps and other programs to help Somali teens adjust to life in Ottawa.


Abdirizak Karod was filled with dread the day he heard that "non-whites" were being blamed for street violence. A clash between youths had led to a stabbing in Barrhaven, prompting Jan Harder, councillor for the suburban community, to single out "non-whites" from other neighbourhoods as the perpetrators.


Mr. Karod didn't know any more than what he had heard on the radio, but as executive director of the Somali Centre for Family Services, he braced for the worst.


"I hope they're not Somalis," he said to himself. That would only give people more reason to point fingers.


It didn't take long for his fear to come true. On open-line talk shows, he heard accusations levelled at the children of Somali immigrants, even though it wasn't clear who had been implicated in the Barrhaven street fight.


To Mr. Karod, the race of the offenders was beside the point. What bothered him was the perception that if there was trouble, Somali teens were bound to be behind it.


He doesn't minimize the problems within his community. But having spent the last decade mediating his share of culture clashes, he knows how easily the actions of a few can tarnish the reputation of many. More than half of the city's 8,300 Somalis are younger than age 19, so when Somali teens capture headlines, people take notice.


The way he sees it, Somali youths have sometimes been unfairly blamed at the first hints of neighbourhood unrest. Truth is, conflicts have a way of taking on cultural twists in a city still coming to terms with its newest immigrants.


Sometimes, says Mr. Karod, those twists can mask the problems that push a community into crisis.


In a large room at a south-end community centre, Mr. Karod observes quietly as Iman Ofleh tries to turn a dozen high-spirited teens into well-adjusted young adults. It's graduation day for the class of mostly boys who have completed a swimming course, paid for by the Somali Centre and the City of Ottawa.


When the program began five months ago, Ms. Ofleh, who has experience as a youth worker, volunteered to teach a workshop on leadership skills. Every Sunday afternoon, before the swimming lesson, she would lead a crash course on teamwork, time management, and job-hunting, knowing that her students would only wade into such topics if they were paired with a fun activity.


The ruse worked so well that Ms. Ofleh had to turn people away. "For every three kids who wanted to get into the program, we could only take one," she says.


The profiles of Ms. Ofleh's students point to the reason the Somali Centre has made youth programs a priority. Many in the class are between the ages of 14 and 16, and come from low-income families. A number live with single mothers, whose husbands were killed or lost in Somalia's civil war.


Beginning in the late 1980s, thousands of these fragmented families arrived in Ottawa as refugees, settling in public housing or low-rent pockets of the city. The influx of newcomers -- who spoke little English and knew little of the rituals of middle-class suburbia -- introduced customs that disrupted established rhythms, sparking tensions in countless neighbourhoods.


Among other things, Somalis were criticized for socializing at street corners after dark -- a treasured tradition from their homeland. Their children were blamed for starting street brawls. The most high-profile troubles took place in the west-end community of Leslie Park, where fights among youths -- black and white -- prompted the media to portray the conflict along racial lines.


Within the Somali community, culture shock only told half the story. While parents struggled with a new life, their children were adapting too quickly. Many spoke English better than Somali. Some sneered at their parents' attempts to learn a new language.


For this younger generation, gathering at the street corner into the small hours of the night was not necessarily a reminder of the homeland. It was a teenage reflex to be loud, playful, and sometimes obnoxious.


As a community worker in southeast Ottawa, where a majority of the city's Somalis live, Mohamoud Hagi-Aden has watched these generational conflicts tear families apart. He describes the spiral that afflicts teenage boys in particular.


Many are the head of their household because the families are fatherless. Their mothers wield only a measured influence. When the boys are expelled from school, they often hide it from their parents and drift into petty crime.


Mr. Hagi-Aden says a Somali boy's aggression and contempt for the law can be traced to religious beliefs as well as traditional practices. In many cases, boys are granted more freedom than girls. Without a healthy respect for structure and discipline, boys quickly learn they can get away with more.


"They feel that since they're in Canada, they have open access to whatever they want," says Mr. Hagi-Aden. "They feel entitled to it, and they don't feel they necessarily have to work for it."


Such conditioning isn't unique to Somali communities. Sikhs in British Columbia confront similar issues as a deadly Indo-Canadian gang war rages. Likewise, the Chinese communities in Vancouver and Toronto are putting aside worries about image, to examine the complex culture that turns young men toward a life of organized crime.


Mr. Hagi-Aden worries the situation within his community is getting worse.


"From the parents' perspective, they feel they've lost everything by leaving their country, and now they've lost control of their children as well. Parents are stressed because the very people they're trying to make a better life for are losing their future, and they can't do anything thing about it."




As early as 1993, when the influx of Somalis peaked, community leaders have wrestled with the youth issue. The problems that afflicted all teens -- boredom, powerlessness, a desire to belong -- were compounded in the Somali community by poverty and generational clashes.


In response to concerns about young people who couldn't speak their own language, the Somali Centre recruited volunteer teachers, and organized weekly "heritage" classes. More than 300 children attended.


That same year, a sympathetic principal at Ridgemont High School, which had a number of students from Somali families, invited the Somali Centre to run an after-school program. There were workshops on health and crime prevention, as well as courses on Somali culture. To attract kids to the program, a basketball league was organized.


The idea was to create a safe haven, allowing Somali youths to play and seek support. In this way, their elders hoped to learn some of their struggles and concerns.


By 1995, the Somali Centre was organized enough to receive government grants, allowing staff and volunteers to arrange summer camps for teens. They also hosted weekly picnics at Vincent Massey Park.


Community leaders knew their efforts weren't enough. Teens were still starting fights. Some dropped out of school, and ran away from home. The Somali Centre receives funding from all three levels of government -- Canadian Heritage, the Ministry of Citizenship, and the city of Ottawa, as well as from the United Way ($40,000 for 2003), but given the limits to its funding, the centre could only do so much.


The situation stood in stark contrast to the city's Vietnamese community. In the 1980s, thousands of refugees fled Vietnam, and found strangers in Ottawa ready to help them find shelter, food and jobs once they arrived.


"In the early years, there was nobody helping us from the Canadian community," says Jabarti, the youth coordinator at the Somali Centre. "We had to do everything on our own."


These days, much of Jabarti's time is spent mediating conflicts that arise when young people get in trouble at school. He keeps endless file folders of complaints, many of them launched by the teens themselves. Together, these grievances paint a portrait of the struggles they face, whether real or imagined.


The offences typically range from fighting to threats to sexual harassment. When incidents are reported, they trigger vaguely worded letters from school officials, suggesting the teen "may have committed an act that makes his presence at school disruptive." In almost all the cases, the offenders are handed a maximum penalty of 21 days suspension -- a punishment Jabarti considers too harsh.


He points to one letter notifying a student not to return to school until he had sought anger-management training. Despite completing the counselling, the student was turned away from the Ottawa Carleton District School Board school, says Jabarti.


"That tells me nobody wants these kids to succeed. Instead of helping them, they are pushing them out of school, and sending them to the streets."


The Citizen tried several times to contact the board's safe schools co-ordinator Dan Wiseman for comment on the incident, without response.


In March, when a series of youth-related attacks prompted Councillor Diane Deans to consult police and community groups in the city's south end, Jabarti represented the Somali Centre.


Among other things, he raised concerns that Somali youths were being singled out by police.


"There was a perception that Somali youth are treated differently than other youth," says Staff Sgt. Scott Nystedt of the Ottawa Police.


"We made it clear that we weren't targeting Somali youths. We're targeting youths of all backgrounds who are responsible for this behaviour. Yes, some youths were of Somali background but there were youths of other backgrounds too."


Staff Sgt. Nystedt, who heads the force's race relations and diversity unit, spends more time with the Somali community than any other immigrant group. He applauds efforts by leaders to educate police about their community, and encourage Somali youth to join the force.


"The Somali community here is very proactive. They have sought out the police, and they don't take no very easily."


Indeed, the relationship seems well developed compared to Toronto, where the police are only starting to reach out to the city's Somali community.


Staff Sgt. Nystedt says concerns over youth crime have largely been responsible for the close ties that have been developed between the police and Somali leaders. "In my experience, they are very concerned about their youth committing crimes, and they are working hard to address it."


[ September 02, 2003, 01:59 AM: Message edited by: Admin ]

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Salaan LST...


Thx for posting the article, i too would also like to congratulate our brother Jabarti for his excellent contribution to his somali communtiy there in ottawa Canada, we need mroe people doing the same.


well done Jabarti

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Masha'Allah!!! Its good to see the somali elders taking the time out to get within the youth and try and deal with the problems they are facing head on rather then close their eyes in denial. subxan'allah its obvious to see that every culture has their struggles and we all need to understand that altho we applude this brother 4 his hard work and effort, there is still so much that needs to be done. we, as the next generation need to get involved with youth work considering we have pretty much been there ourselves and having been raised abroad we have a greater idea of some of the effect these western countries have on our youth. Living in australia where most of the somali's havent been here long. They only start coming down here with in the last 10yrs, and subxan'allah you can see that already we are starting to losing our youth to the "streets". The worest thing is that most of the people insist on being blind about the problem. When youth activities are organised they are looked down upon by some parents thinking its a waste of time, then when their kids find other activities on their own when they do get bored, they are often ones that lead the youth down the wrong road. Its blind to most people that we have Somali youth in juvinial dention and a few doing time in prison, and the even scary thing is that more could be heading in that direction if we dont grab hold of them. The youth is our future and we need 2 help them build a positive one. i'm not saying we should all become social workers, lakiin get down to ur local community center and see what things YOU can do, as a member of ur community you should get involved with such things.

Alhamdulilah we also have positive aspects in our community, however concentrating on the problems will help us to eliminate them and give us more time to enjoy the fruites of our hard work.

may Allah help us achive greatness in this world and the hereafter, and may he guide us on the right path, and strengthen our iman.



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Dear brothers and sisters,


There is Arabic saying, which goes like this: "Laa Shukran Alal Waajib".


Which can roughly be translated to "No thanks or complement to normal duties or ones service." Therefore, what I had done was not an extraordinary rather its something that I been or was doing for the past 10 years. I love my people, I love them to succeed in both lives, and I especially try to help the youth and the young kids since they are the only future of our community here in N.America or even to some extend, to rebuild and reclaim our motherland “Somalia”.


Most of our youth are accompanied by single mother, with no father or in some cases no elder brother, therefore what they need is a father figure, they need someone to look upto, and they need a good role models, (someone like you and me).


Those of you who are like my age late 20s or early 30s can be the best role models to our youngsters since we were born and raised in Somali, since we know our culture, religion, and values, since we know both cultures namely Somali and N.American one, we can bridge the gap b/w our youth and their parents (intergenerational conflict), youth and the mainstream society, youth and police, and youth and school administrations.



In my conclusion I thank all of those brothers and sisters who read the article, lets this be the beginning of good and bright future of ours, lets share and exchange our thoughts, dreams and most of all our experience. Each and everyone has a potential and talent, lets put our efforts and energy together and help our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and elders of our community we are the mind, the power and the future of Somali whether in Canada, America, Europe or back home.


Thanks to all of you for your good heart, faith and the complement, I am humble brother who was just doing his job toward his community, I done my share now it’s yours.


Special thanks to Brother Libaxsankataable, !!!!! Keep up the good work libaax and the other moderators, Somalia Online is the best Somali site. “By youth for youth”






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