The first annual Somali Diaspora Youth was held in 2009 to create a forum where youth can network and work together for their own personal development, as well as community advancement. Their group seeks to “promote beneficial knowledge; embracing our religion and the good in our culture; committing to the reform process; leading by example; working and sacrificing for peace and justice.”
Members of the planning committee represent major Somali communities such as Minnesota, Ohio, the DC/MD/VA area and as far as London. Through e-mail and conference calls, themes, speakers, and topics are carefully chosen and advertisement begins utilizing various social networks. Despite time differences and workloads, the conference organizers were able to harness their outreach and networks into the most successful conference yet.
As Awowe Hamza, a guest and panelist from Europe remarked, “I had been following the SDY conferences during the previous years and really felt that it was something to be continued. I wanted to get involved in any way I could and Alhamdulilah, the opportunity to actually participate presented itself. I felt that if I could engage with the youth at the US conference, we’d be one step closer to creating that network of inter-connectedness that we have been lacking.” He noted that while the issues facing the Diaspora are large in scope, things are slowly changing. Boys and girls are continuing to achieve higher educationally, have better career prospects, use their talents to give back to their community and work on becoming better individuals. The idea of “collective individualism” was a key point in his presentation. “Collective individualism-the idea that if we aim to improve ourselves and achieve our potential, that we are automatically adding to the value of our community and the prospects of our Nation. It then becomes much easier to help the rest of the community because you come from a place of stability in your life, where you are a role model to the next generation as well as a foundation for our children to develop from,” he said. He touched on an issue facing many organizations, that of a few dedicated individuals doing a bulk of the work. “Twenty percent of people are continuing to do 80% of the work-whereas the other 80% of the people seem content with carrying 20% of the weight. If we are able even balance that by a little more, and spread the load, we’d have both a more effective/efficient way of working, yielding more successful results, and we’d have lessened the burden on the individual.
Hodan Eyow, another presenter was inspired by the conference, “I had only one goal coming to the conference: to learn from my fellow Somalis within the diaspora. We all have our unique experiences and expertise. Tapping into that pool of knowledge would create the momentum I need to make some new actionable plans for the future. I was incredibly inspired upon leaving the conference. The most important lesson I took away was the necessity to set a timeline for my return to Somalia. Making an actionable plan in order to go back within the next 6 months inshaAllah came into clear vision upon leaving the conference.”
Ahmed Aden, an IT professional, shared his presentation on the role of technology in education reform. “Developing as a Diaspora is very critical to improving the lives and circumstances of people in Somalia. Technology can help to develop Somali institutions with the help of the Diaspora.”
The sessions covered a wide range of topics including Sustainable Healthcare, Ethical Leadership, Role of Muslim Women in Community Building and a Youth Leadership Training led by Dr. Altaf Husain, a specialist in social worker at Howard University who has conducted research on the Somali diaspora. On the topic of community leadership, Altaf said, "There is strong evidence that the focus on the development of Somali girls has yielded positive results in terms of higher self-esteem, better academic achievement and connection with Islam. A similar, perhaps more intense focus is called for on the development of Somali boys and insha'Allah this effort will also yield positive results." He has hope that Somali youth will tap into their rich legacy and cultural traditions, Islamic identity, and American experiences to cope with cultural tensions and achieve greater results for themselves and their community.
In addition to the networking opportunities, the exchange of information and successful models was this conference’s biggest success. Initially, email was the main forum for discussion around the conference and now, participants are working together to identify and fill gaps in existing efforts before embarking on new ones. They are taking the lessons they learned from the conference back to work in their respective communities.
Sadia Aden, the founder and one of the main organizers of the conference shared this at the close, “The Somalia Diaspora, by and large, is the by-product of a negative experience of the civil war. Over the years, due to a natural progression, the Diaspora has gone through a maturation process. It is in our collective best interest to create a sustainable connection between the Diaspora and our homeland. Not just in economic help, but in institution and peace-building. We think our youth, whether in US, UK, Canada or any other part of the world can bring positive energy and a broad vision to rebuild our sense of nationhood. However, we in the Somali Diaspora Youth (SDY) are mindful that successful nations have all their citizens -- regardless of their age -- carry a portion of the weight or responsibility.”
Plans are underway for the 5th annual Somali Diaspora Youth Conference. For more information log on to www.somalidiasporayouth.org .