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Raising Children In the Diaspora: Some Suggestions

Several years ago, I attended a wedding while visiting Somalia. I was "hanging out" in the bride's bedroom with various other female friends and family members who were helping with last minute arrangements. As I was listening to the buzz of the different conversations going on simultaneously in the room, I was struck by the diversity of languages being spoken. In one corner, two teenagers were talking excitedly in Dutch. A women nearby was scolding her young son in Arabic. Other languages heard in the room include Swedish, Swahili and English. I could only but reflect on the vast expansiveness of the Somali diaspora.

As a Somali living abroad, I often wonder what the future holds for us. Will Somali communities form the tight knit bonds that hold cultures together as is often the case for East Indians and Chinese? Or will we completely assimilate into our host countries, adopting the dominant beliefs and value systems? It is a question we need to be asking ourselves, especially as many Somalis begin to have families and settle down in the West. The stark reality is that the children of the next generation will be more English, Dutch, American, Canadian, or Australian (among many others) than Somali. It is highly unlikely that these children will be able to speak Somali well, let alone understand the deep poetry and music of our rich culture.

For Somali parents attempting to raise children with a semblance of cultural awareness, the task is a challenging one. However, there are some important steps one can take to ensure a sense of connection with Somali culture. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Enforce a Somali-only language policy in the house. Encourage children to speak Somali in the house. I know the suggestion is easier said than done, especially after the child enters school. However, even if only basic comprehension is achieved, that is an accomplishment. If possible, try to live in an area where there are other Somali children to foster a feeling of community.

2) Send children to madrassa. The importance in giving children a basic Islamic education cannot be over-empahsized. Especially in these times when our children are being raised in societies with very different and often times opposing value systems.

3) Organize a trip to Somalia at least once in a child's youth. If possible, travel back to Somalia to acquaint the children with their heritage. Visiting Somalia can provide kids with long lasting memories and a better understanding of the culture and society. Other benefits of taking children to visit Somalia is meeting extended family members and improving or learning altogther the Somali language.

These are just few of many suggestions to help famillies instill a sense of Somali heritage in their children. But we must also remember that we are the examples to which our children look to, so if we continue to be clannish, competitive, and vengeful....we will get nowhere as a people. We are truly at a crossroads, and it is time for those of us in qurbaha to take responsiblity for our future generations.

Somali Women and Children's Center
Somali Children's Corner
Somali Cultural Association