Meet Mukhtar Gaaddasaar, Media Maker for "Egal Shidad" Project
Mukhtar Gaaddasaar came to the United States by himself in 1997 when he received a sponsorship. He had spent the previous year and a half in Kenya where he taught himself English. He wanted to pursue a college education once he arrived in the United States. First, however, he focused on employment. Mukhtar worked in computer chip assembly, security, and data entry. After 2 years, he was able to begin taking courses at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. He was unable to qualify for financial aid because he was working fulltime. He felt it was important to continue working fulltime in order to be able to send money to his family, so he decided to take courses part-time. Mukhtar credits his boss for being flexible and supportive of his effort to obtain an education. He transferred to the University of Minnesota, completing a degree in Political Science and English Literature in 2005. He served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at the Jane Adam School for Democracy in St. Paul. Mukhtar obtained a certificate in translation and interpretation, and was employed by St. Paul Public Schools. This fall, he began a graduate program at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs as a MacArthur Scholar majoring in Public Policy and Community Economic Development. He was also awarded the Diversity of Views and Experiences Scholarship.
Mukhtar is the Producer for the Egal Shidad film and radio projects.
1. Tell us what it means to be an immigrant in America. Immigrants fit into different categories. Some come by choice because they need a better life (education, income, etc.). Political asylees and refugees have no option. This is their last resort. Nobody wants to flee their house in the middle of the night without collecting their things. You leave everything material behind. It’s a last resort, so those who make it all the way to the United States (and people here can’t even really imagine what life in a refugee camp is like) are the lucky ones. There are some who are permanently displaced with little food, no money, and living in tents or shacks. They are the strongest. The U.S. is different from other Western countries. Somalis here have advanced much more than those living in Europe and Australia. They are getting more opportunities here. A first generation immigrant can be “an American.” There are still many challenges, and it’ not easy, but you can become a part of America.
2. For better or worse, how can or how does media (TV, Movies, radio, news stories) make a difference in immigrants’ lives? Most immigrants that I know depend on ethnic media, especially via the internet, but it’s harder for those who don’t speak or read English. Many still care very much about what is happening back in Somalia, and they depend on others for this information. Many elders pay a fee to be able to listen to Somali recordings of news information via the Somali Yellow Pages. They also listen to Voice of America and the BBC. Local radio and cable access channels with Somali programming – that’s how they get in front of what’s happening. Media is very important for immigrants. They are following news in two places: the U.S.A. and Somalia.
3. Tell us about an interesting or wise practice from another culture that you wish Americans would adopt. I have a friend from Owatonna who became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. At first it was hard, but now she doesn’t want to leave. U.S. culture encourages tolerance of religion and other cultures, but as my friend points out, other cultures are more relaxed. They are not always on the clock. Life is more enjoyed.
4. How could immigrant health and well-being be improved in your city or in the US? I think helping immigrants become more informed. Getting the right information will be the most important thing. The fact that Americans have a pattern of regular medical appointments is so important, and immigrants need to learn about this. They need to learn why preventive care is important and where to get accurate health information.
5. Tell us something about your background that led you to become the person you are today. What is your greatest motivation or who is your greatest motivator? My greatest motivators are my mother and my sister. Growing up, my father was away a lot, so I was not as close to him. My mother worked very hard for us and asked all of us to be our best, to always do our best. My sister, who lives in London now, helped me transform myself from boyhood to manhood. She supported me while I was in Kenya and helped me get here. When you are away from your family for so long, you become like a rock. Your feelings and the connections you have with your family fade away. Maybe you talk on the phone once a month. My sister and I recently traveled together from London back to Somalia to visit our parents. We reconnected on the plane. We discussed all the things we never have time to discuss. Face to face contact is irreplaceable.
Tags: Egal Shidad, Mukhtar Gaaddasaar
Topics: Community Health, Community Media, Ethnic Media, Family, Founding American Values, Immigrants, Media production, Mental health, New Routes Leaders, Refugees
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This report (PDF 3.8MB) offers guidance for community organizations and those who fund social change in how best to harness the power of local media-making for community health improvement. Spanish-language version is now available. Una versión en español de este informe esta en la web.