Khadijo Abdulkadir was 15 years old when she entered the United States as a Somalian refugee. Suddenly tasked with navigating the systems of a brand new country on her own, Abdulkadir looked to community organizations such as the Northside Learning Center and Hopeprint to help her settle and assimilate to a new language, customs and culture. That experience would later inspire the creation of her own support network for the many young girls that come after her.
“I want to make sure that those who are going down the same path that I traveled do not have to go through it alone,” she said.
Abdulkadir launched New American Women’s Empowerment (NAWE) to instill confidence and strength in refugee girls and teach them the tools to overcome gender boundaries. Many of the girls, Abdulkadir notes, are vulnerable and do not speak English. It is often difficult for their parents to be of assistance to them because they face their own similar struggles acclimating.
“We serve as role models for these girls,” said Abdulkadir. “They look up to us because they know that we have gone through the same pressures, cultural strife, and break in traditional norms.”
Although NAWE’s outreach is dedicated largely to the younger generation, it also carves out one day a month to talk with adults in the refugee community. These gatherings provide an open forum for women to discuss women’s health and a variety of other issues that may seem too taboo in their culture to talk about out loud.
“We encourage each other,” said Abdulkadir. “The more support these women have, the more they will be able to deal with issues as they arise.”
In May, leaders of NAWE found themselves in front of their peers, the sound of the camera and phone clicks documenting their graduation from The Leadership Classroom (TLC), a program of the Community Foundation. Surrounded by her team members, Abdulkadir thought of how far the group has come and how TLC has contributed to the process.
“This class has allowed us to grow in a way we never thought possible,” said Abdulkadir. “We are a passionate organization that wants to do something and now, because of TLC, we know the path to take.”
Abdulkadir credits TLC with giving NAWE the extra push and boost of confidence its leaders needed to take their group to the next level.
“We gained tremendous knowledge on how to operate a nonprofit grassroots organization,” she said. “Our teammates are now equipped with the knowledge and skills to do amazing things.”