Community Activist Helps African Immigrants Adjust To American Life

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This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE.

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Ahmed SahidAmhed Sahid

Age: 44

Place of Residence: San Diego, Calif.

Why he is a local hero: Sahid helps African immigrants, particularly Somalis, gain their footing in America.

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Imagine coming to a new country with nothing. You may have been a victim of political or ethnic violence in your home country and you don’t speak English.

You’ve left your life behind in a bid to start a new prosperous existence, but who do you look to for guidance?

For thousands of Somalis and East Africans arriving in San Diego, that answer has been Sahid, president and CEO of Somali Family Service (SFS).

Sahid’s group helps African immigrants bridge the gap by providing programs to ease the transition for new arrivals in this country. San Diego has approximately 30,000 East African immigrants and one of the largest populations of Somalis in the country. SFS helps them to find schools, jobs, medical care, and housing.

Life in Somalia is incredibly difficult. The Fund for Peace has ranked the nation on the Horn of Africa as the top “failed state” on the planet for the fourth year in a row. Citing “widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, and well-publicized pirate attacks against foreign vessels,” the nation has “unending woes,” the fund said. It’s been more than two decades since Somalia had a stable government.

Somalis arriving in America face cultural, language, and financial barriers at the start of their journey for a better life. With San Diego being ranked as one of the most-expensive places in the country to live, Somalis, hit hard by the economic downturn, are struggling with homelessness and living in overcrowded homes. Combine that with fears that terrorist groups are targeting the Somali population for recruitment and a difficult picture emerges.

By partnering with social service agencies, law enforcement, and government, Sahid has been able to create a path for newly arrived Somalis, often recovering from the extreme violence they faced in their homelands. For example, when he saw that the new immigrants lacked printed materials, he spearheaded a bilingual publication, the only of its kind for East Africans in Southern California.

The group is also working to keep young immigrants from becoming involved in drugs and gangs. It’s a mission that Sahid has upheld for more than 20 years, starting off as part of a volunteer effort.

“I am proud to be part of the solution of helping the underserved community become productive members of our society,” said Sahid.

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