Minnesota has one of the largest Somali refugee populations in the country.

But it wasn't long ago the first Somali family called Mankato home.

For a long time, it was home.

Chairman of Somali Community Barwaaqo Organization Hussein Jama said, "I live a good life. I was working with the White House, like say the White House here. We call it Villa Somalia. The president is there. So, I was working there as a financial. I was doing Department of Finance over there for 10 years."

Then in 1990, everything changed, with a civil war that continues today, and with a government job, that made Hussein Jama a target.

Hussein Jama said, "I left from my family, and I get a ticket to come to Cairo."

Hussein eventually made his way to the United States, but it was alone.

Back in Somalia, his family made their way to Kenya, with the first attempt by boat claiming the lives of several family members before finally finding refuge.

Executive Director of Somali Community Barwaaqo Organization Fardousa Jama said, "We took a car and then part ways we walked, right, and the journey in itself isn't something any human should go through because you make sacrifices, you make ... you lose a lot."

For the almost five years, Hussein worked to bring his family to him.

It was the help of a Good Samaritan who assisted Hussein, financing his family's reunion in 1995, filled with joy and a lot to learn.

Fardousa Jama said, "He missed a lot. He was just a stranger we came to live with."

In the years that followed, they moved from Tennessee to Minnesota and in 1997, they came to call Mankato home as Hussein attended MSU–Mankato.

Hussein Jama said, "There no Somali people living in Mankato. We are the first to come to here."

But being the first wasn't always an easy transition, especially for a young teenager going to school.

Fardousa Jama said, "You don't see no other person who looks like you, sounds like you, dress like you, acts like you. Kids would ask did I grow up with monkeys, or do I taste like chocolate."

Even with the bad, they say their family's found a good life and community here, and in the early 2000s, a few other Somali refugee families joined the Jama's in calling Mankato home.

The primary reasons are schools, jobs and a lower cost of living.

Program Manager at YWCA of Mankato Ayan Musse said, "Refugees, they had to be forced out of their home. It was not a choice. Either by war or natural disaster, or political persecution. So, some of the individuals we have in our community, they have no other choice but to be here, but however, in the United States, however, they’ve chosen to live in Mankato."

In the two decades since the Jama's arrived, hundreds of Somali families have built a life in the Greater Mankato area, even though the start is often the part.

Musse said, "First struggle would be language. Could you image going to a country where you don't speak the language, read or write and new culture, so culture shock."

To smooth the transition, some of the first Somalis to call Mankato home are lending a hand to help those who are new arrivals to adjust to a new life.

Musse said, "Either new to the country or new to the community, help them with their basic needs and try to connect them with the resources in the community so they can better off their lives."

Ayan Musse, who's lived in Mankato since 2002 does that work through the YWCA, helping the larger population of immigrants and refugees.

At MRCI WorkSource, Mohamed Abdulkadir who's moved here 15 years ago and lived the last ten years in St. Peter, he focuses on helping with employment beyond filling out applications, by bridging employer and employee.

MRCI WorkSource Refugee Training Consultant Mohamed Abdulkadir said, "I was working to help them get a job and train them and teach them, guide them, coach them, all that thing. Even when they get a job, so we can provide the organizations that help, we can provide them interpreting, we can participate for the orientations."

Employers reach out to Abdulkadir to understand the cultural differences and provide ways to meet their needs.

Abdulkadir said, "One small issue come up like when people are praying or fasting time, they don’t know how to deal with that, call us and say this is what we have, can you come to me and discuss? Then we find the solution."

And for Fardousa Jama, she saw the need for assistance on her doorstep.

Fardousa Jama said, "Women started to show up at my house for little help, like filling out applications, filling out health cards or filling out county paperwork or applying for an apartment and I noticed, even the evenings I would have four or five women waiting for me. Those four to five women grew to ten women; ten women grew to 20 women, pretty soon I was hiding away from my house."

That was part of the reason for Fardousa, with the help of others including her father Hussein to launch the Somali Community Barwaaqo Organization in 2014 to be an office and resource for Somali people.

Hussein Jama said, "Finding a home for a shelter, health, we bring to Open Door, just to finish it up, immunization and everything, bringing them to the schools."

But it's not just about Somalis helping Somalis, with the organization saying there are ways for non–Somalis to volunteer, including legal help with issues refugees face to teachers; a way to bridge the communities within Mankato.

Fardousa Jama said, "The message that I have for this community is stop and ask questions, stop and get to know your next door neighbor, stop and get to learn what my culture is about, stop and get to learn where we came from because we have a rich, rich culture."

A culture they've seen many in the Mankato area eager to learn as they work toward a common goal.

Musse said, "Provide jobs, to provide more opportunities for all of us, and to be part of the community we all love."

Abdulkadir said, "After ten years, I can see a lot of kids that graduate high school, even college. I know that almost three of them now, they have a business here because when I came here, maybe there were ten, 12 years old. Now they graduated, and they are giving back to the community what they learned and now they also in the community too, so those kids can be the bridge."

--KEYC News 12