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Meetings Thursday in Willmar, Minn., aim to promote understanding of Somali culture

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WILLMAR -- The public is invited to attend community meetings this week that are intended to increase understanding of the Somali culture.

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Organizers said they hope "Understanding the Somali Culture," to be held twice on Thursday, will help promote a greater understanding between the growing Somali population in Willmar and the rest of the community.

The meetings will each have the same panel of speakers. One will run from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and the other from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, 611 Fifth St. S.W.

Two meetings were scheduled so that as many people as possible could attend.

The meetings are for "anyone who's curious and would like to enhance their understanding about the Somali culture specifically and more generally about the evolving nature of the broader community," said Greg Hilding of Bremer Bank. Hilding will moderate the panel discussions and the question-and-answer sessions to follow.

"Willmar has always been a community of immigrants through the decades, and we continue to experience that," Hilding added in an interview last week. "Like any community, we continue to evolve and change."

Abdirizak "Zak" Mahboub, director of the African Development Center in Willmar, said in a telephone interview that he hopes to see broad participation in the meetings.

People in the Somali community are excited about the meetings, and the elders in the community have been encouraging people to participate, he said.

"We want to introduce Somali culture to the mainstream community," Mahboub said.

The panel discussion will include presentations on the following topics:

* Understanding the Somali culture and the role of the mosque;

* Understanding the cultural history of Willmar;

* Perspectives from a Somali growing up in Willmar;

* Understanding planning and zoning;

* Acclimating to culture, both here and in Somalia.

The panel will include Mahboub; the Rev. Tim Larson of Calvary Lutheran Church; Mohamed Sayid of Kandiyohi County Family Services; Charlene Stevens, Willmar city administrator; and Rachelle Peterson, a community member.

The meeting will provide information about what has motivated Somali refugees to settle in Willmar and will address their interest in establishing a house of worship for their faith, Hilding said.

The meetings will also address the economic benefit immigrant groups have on the community, he said.

Mahboub and Hilding both pointed out that the Willmar schools have been dealing with this issue for some time. "Adults are just catching up," Hilding said.

"The schools are really the best instrument of integration that is working for us," Mahboub said. "The workplace is more of a challenge."

The meetings are sponsored by the Willmar Lakes Area Community Marketing Coalition in cooperation with the African Development Center, the city of Willmar, Willmar Public Schools, Bremer Bank and the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

WILLMAR -- The public is invited to attend community meetings this week that are intended to increase understanding of the Somali culture.

Organizers said they hope "Understanding the Somali Culture," to be held twice on Thursday, will help promote a greater understanding between the growing Somali population in Willmar and the rest of the community.

The meetings will each have the same panel of speakers. One will run from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and the other from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, 611 Fifth St. S.W.

Two meetings were scheduled so that as many people as possible could attend.

The meetings are for "anyone who's curious and would like to enhance their understanding about the Somali culture specifically and more generally about the evolving nature of the broader community," said Greg Hilding of Bremer Bank. Hilding will moderate the panel discussions and the question-and-answer sessions to follow.

"Willmar has always been a community of immigrants through the decades, and we continue to experience that," Hilding added in an interview last week. "Like any community, we continue to evolve and change."

Abdirizak "Zak" Mahboub, director of the African Development Center in Willmar, said in a telephone interview that he hopes to see broad participation in the meetings.

People in the Somali community are excited about the meetings, and the elders in the community have been encouraging people to participate, he said.

"We want to introduce Somali culture to the mainstream community," Mahboub said.

The panel discussion will include presentations on the following topics:

- Understanding the Somali culture and the role of the mosque;

- Understanding the cultural history of Willmar;

- Perspectives from a Somali growing up in Willmar;

- Understanding planning and zoning;

- Acclimating to culture, both here and in Somalia.

The panel will include Mahboub; the Rev. Tim Larson of Calvary Lutheran Church; Mohamed Sayid of Kandiyohi County Family Services; Charlene Stevens, Willmar city administrator; and Rachelle Peterson, a community member.

The meeting will provide information about what has motivated Somali refugees to settle in Willmar and will address their interest in establishing a house of worship for their faith, Hilding said.

The meetings will also address the economic benefit immigrant groups have on the community, he said.

Mahboub and Hilding both pointed out that the Willmar schools have been dealing with this issue for some time. "Adults are just catching up," Hilding said.

"The schools are really the best instrument of integration that is working for us," Mahboub said. "The workplace is more of a challenge."

The meetings are sponsored by the Willmar Lakes Area Community Marketing Coalition in cooperation with the African Development Center, the city of Willmar, Willmar Public Schools, Bremer Bank and the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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