Exploring Life & Business with Said Abiyow

Below is an article from SDVoyager:

Today, we’d like to introduce you to Said Abiyow.

Said, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?

I was born and spent my early years in Somalia during the 1990s, a time of civil war and the accompanying atrocities. Life for all Somalians was changed during this time, but for my tribe, the repercussions were especially violent. My ancestors were slaves from Mozambique and Tanzania in the late 19th century. The apparent crime of my heritage meant I would be relegated to the lowest-status jobs, denied an education, and prohibited from marrying someone from a different tribe.

This distinct separation of Somali Bantus meant that as our country fragmented into warring tribes, we found far more enemies than friends. Very early in my life, I watched with my mother as the rest of our nine-member family was shot and killed. Given the circumstances, we fled, like many other Somalis and Somali Bantu. My mother carried me from Somalia to Kenya without food or water to reach the nearest refugee camp. The journey, lasting about a week and a half, nearly killed us both. Yet, my mother was able to bring us to the relative safety and care of the refugee camp.

Much of my life was led there, but I was eventually able to qualify to attend the University of Kenya. This education was part of what allowed me to bring my wife, children, and mother with me to the United States.

The journey to the U.S., however, was not all that was expected of my mother. Once removed from the setting of trauma, she began experiencing severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her struggle and my intense need to help her—as well as others like her—led me to create a program that supported refugee women experiencing PTSD. From here, the Somali Bantu Association of America (SBAOA) was born. While we began as a women-focused program, our services today include employment, education, translation services, English as a second language (ESL), and youth.

My mother was able to overcome her struggles, was the first Somali Bantu woman to start her own business in City Heights, and continues to support the SBAOA and the greater community we serve.

We all face challenges, but would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?

My path hasn’t been easy. One big problem I faced was people treating me unfairly because of my race and ethnicity while I lived in refugee camps. Even though I was a good student, I often couldn’t move to the next grade because there were rules limiting how many people like me could be in each class.

This showed how deeply unfair treatment based on ethnicity was in the camp. People in Kenya didn’t think highly of refugees, especially Somali refugees like me. Because I was Somali Bantu, I was treated even worse in the camp. My struggles in school were just one way this unfair treatment showed up. Even though it was tough, I kept going and eventually did really well on my college entrance exams. That’s how I got into the University of Kenya.

This was one of the hardest parts of my journey. Not only did I achieve things that many people didn’t expect, but some people didn’t think I should achieve them at all, just because of where my family comes from. But I kept going, thanks to the support of others and my determination not to let unfairness define my life.

As you know, we’re big fans of the Somali Bantu Association of America. What can you tell our readers who might not be as familiar with the brand?

The Somali Bantu Association of America (SBAOA) helps Somali Bantu and other refugees and immigrants who face challenges in the United States. We want them to succeed in their new life by getting good jobs, education, and fitting into American society.

We focus on people who have trouble because they don’t speak English well or don’t understand American culture. For example, we can translate many languages, even ones that are uncommon. This helps people when they go to the doctor because they can understand what the doctor is saying.

Last year, we did much more to help people find jobs, learn English, and feel part of the community. We offer workshops to help people with job interviews and making resumes. We also teach people about cultural differences, like how making eye contact can mean different things in different cultures.

We also do things to support families and help kids do well in school. For example, we have workshops for parents, especially dads, about how to be more involved with their kids. We also have support groups for women and help young people adjust to school. This is important because young people from refugee families often have a hard time fitting in and might get into trouble.

We do a lot more things, too, but these are some of the main things we do at the SBAOA.

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?

One surprising aspect of the Somali Bantu Association of America (SBAOA) that many might not know is its involvement in promoting traditional Somali cultural practices and heritage preservation. While the primary focus of the organization is on assisting refugees in their resettlement journey, the SBAOA also plays a role in celebrating and preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Somali Bantu community.

Through events, workshops, and cultural exchanges, the SBAOA works to ensure that traditional Somali customs, rituals, and art forms are passed down to younger generations and maintained within the diaspora. This may include activities such as traditional dance performances, storytelling sessions, or cooking classes where participants learn to prepare authentic Somali dishes.

By incorporating cultural preservation efforts into its broader mission of refugee support, the SBAOA not only helps refugees integrate into their new communities but also fosters a sense of pride and belonging in their cultural identity. This aspect of the organization’s work highlights the importance of cultural heritage in promoting resilience, identity, and community cohesion among refugee populations.