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Somali mom getting education at Lincoln

The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Monday, June 10, 2013

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Fatima Shoria spelled her last name out loud in English and then looked to her friend and, at the moment, interpreter sitting to her left to make sure she had it right.

In an office room at the Lincoln Community Center, Nasra Ibrahim smiled and nodded. Yes, she said, that's how you spell it.

Shoria had waited a year in Mankato just to have the opportunity to learn to spell her last name, among various other things that most of us take for granted. She was on the waiting list for the preschool program at Lincoln Logs Learning Center for her son, Idiris, so she could begin Adult Basic Education classes, including English as a Second Language.

Finally, last September, she got the call that there was a spot open, and she and her son started coming to Lincoln every day.

Idiris is now chatting away in English, which is fun for Shoria to see. For her, the road has been tougher but no less enjoyable, she said.

“I'm old, and I cannot be like him,” Shoria said in Somali through Ibrahim. “His brain is like recording. It was empty when he came here. Now it's always recording.”

The big smiles from Shoria as she talks about being able to read mail that comes to her house, or understanding how to do basic math, are even more moving when she recalls what it has taken for her to get to this point.

Born in Somalia in the Bantu tribe, made up of mostly poor and uneducated citizens, her family and tribe didn't believe girls or women should go to school. Violence from the war was all around her, and so to protect her, Shoria's family arranged for her to be married at the age of 13.

The couple left their families in search of a safer place to live, walking for months from city to city. Along the way, Shoria gave birth to the couple's first son.

They decided Yemen would be a safe place to stay, so they saved for months to raise the $100 per person for the boat ride in the late 1990s, only saving enough for Shoria and her 4-month-old baby.

It wasn't until she was on board that she realized it was a “smuggler's boat” that would not be able to dock on shore without being shot at by the Yemeni Navy.

When the Yemeni shore was barely visible, the driver ordered everyone off the boat, forcing them to swim to shore. Shoria didn't know how to swim and had her baby in her arms when she jumped into the water in panic.

She remembers struggling to stay afloat and having to let go of her son. The rest of the swim was a blur, but she remembers someone grabbing her baby and swimming him to shore. She remembers nearly drowning and being rescued by someone who helped swim her to shore.

After four months in a refugee camp, her husband joined them. In the time the family was there, they had their second son, Idiris.

With help from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the family left the camp and came to the United States, arriving in St. Louis, Mo., in August 2010. After 10 months there, the family moved to Mankato in August 2011 with another family who was headed here.

Outreach staff helped the family find an apartment and helped her oldest son enroll in school. He's now a high school student at Mankato East, taking English-language learners classes to help learn English.

She was also told about Adult Basic Education classes at Lincoln and was encouraged to enroll.

Shoria was thrilled. Since she was a girl, she had dreamed of getting an education, so she registered right away for transportation and preschool for her son.

But because of the lack of space in Lincoln Logs, she waited a year before they could attend.

Now it's been six months since the two started school at Lincoln, and she's already moved up one literacy level. Shoria knows her name and address. She can fill out a form. And she has short conversations without an interpreter.

She can grouse about the weather, for example, and let you know that math is awfully tough sometimes.

In a recent class led by teacher Joni Gilman, multiplication was the lesson of the day.

“Ten times any number equals that number plus a zero at the end,” Gilman instructed a group of about half a dozen students. “What's 10 times 6?”

Shoria wrote 60 on her notebook and showed the teacher.

“That's correct,” she said.

Coming to Lincoln is the best thing that's happened in her life, she said.

“When she first came here, she didn't know how to recognize her name,” said Ibrahim, who works in reception and does outreach for Adult Basic Education. “And now, she said, 'I can write my name. I can spell my first and last name. I can recognize my kids' names. When mail comes, I can tell who it's going to.'”

Shoria knows she has a long way to go. Her plan is to eventually attend college and perhaps become a nurse. For now, she's focusing on the basics — computer skills, math and, of course, English.

“I'm having a good time,” she said.



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