Whittier School student, Grace Banks: Somalis have made positive contributions to Lewiston

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You’re being forced to leave and you can only take two things with you. You must choose immediately. The longer you take, the closer you could be to rape, torture or even death.

Imagine living in fear in your country, trying to spend as much time away from war as possible before fleeing for your life.

That’s what many Somalis had to go through before coming to America. Also, although there has been controversy on the topic, data and facts show that the Somali migration has had a positive impact on the city of Lewiston.

Somalis want to work. In 2011, an article in the Sun Journal titled, “The top 10 myths about Somalis and why they are wrong,” indicates that Somalis who already have full-time, part-time, or seasonal jobs, have eagerly sought job opportunities, which brings revenue to the city.

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According to Rilwan Osman, the executive director of the Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine and a Somali Bantu, Somalis feel they have to help friends and family in refugee camps by getting jobs. He also stated that some have three or four jobs at once.

Somalis don’t get free apartments. In the article in the Sun Journal from 2011, it states that Somalis “pay rent at the same scale as everyone else.”

It’s also been proven that Somalis occupy only 15 percent of 437 units administered by the Lewiston Housing Authority and receive only about a quarter of the 1,100 housing vouchers currently in Lewiston.

Somalis are in no way responsible for a rise in crime. The crime rate has actually fallen since 2001, according to the Lewiston Police Department.

The 2011 Sun Journal article indicates that only 0.007 percent of the people listed in the Sun Journal’s reports of the Androscoggin grand jury indictments from February to June of 2010 were Somali.

Lewiston’s former Mayor Larry Gilbert pointed out that, based on a crime analysis done by the Lewiston Police Department, “Lewiston has a lower crime rate than Bangor, Portland and Auburn.”

Since 2001, Somalis have been bringing the Lewiston community together.

Immigrant Hussein Ahmed, owner of the Barwaqo Halal Store on Lisbon Street, states that within five days of coming to Lewiston he had “submitted a job application at a call center and was interviewed that afternoon.” By the end of that day he was offered a job, which shows integration from the beginning for some new Somali residents.

Throughout the years, the community has come together more and more when, for the first time in 2011 in Lewiston, Zam Zam Mohamud, a Lewiston and Somali community leader, ran for public office. She lost to a former superintendent, but got 41 percent of the votes. “I firmly believe that one day there will be a Somali mayor,” announced Gilbert.

One of the biggest community gatherings was the Many and One Rally in 2003. More than 4,000 people attended it to support the Somalis against the World Church of The Creator, a group of people against the Somali migration, whose rally had about 40 people.

The Many and One rally bring the community together, which might not have happened if the Somalis didn’t migrate to Lewiston.

The Somalis also put money into the economy. They rent apartments and buy cars instead of being given free ones, as rumors have stated. They are also starting businesses; many of those businesses are on Lisbon Street, like Ahmed’s. That helps bring revenue to the city.

Lastly, they help and value education.

Osman noted that Somalis are needed as translators in schools and education is one of the most loved things by Somalis in America. “Education is very important to Somalis,” stated Qamar Bashir, another Somali community leader.

Overall, since the Somali migration started in 2001, Somalis have positively helped Lewiston.

Think before you say something bad or unkind about a person or group. You don’t know what they have been through, and Somalis are no exception.

Go into stores owned by Somalis and learn about the culture. It’s worth it.

Grace Banks is a student at Bruce M. Whittier Middle School in Poland.

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