ROCHESTER — When Somali native Abdiaziz Mohamed Farah, 36, was living in a refugee camp in the neighboring African nation of Kenya, he said he only took a shower once a week — “if you were lucky.”
He said he remembered hearing of a place where his family of eight could find ample food, shelter, education, electricity and running water. That place was America.
Farah and his kin no longer have to dream of America — they’re here. Now the father can bathe when he wants, send his children to school and live in relative comfort. That’s because he’s residing with his family in an apartment not far from St. Anne Parish on Mount Hope Avenue. Volunteers from the parish have helped give his family a new start in life by resettling them in this city.
Farah came to Rochester in early September after living in Kenya since 1992. A former corn farmer in Somalia, his life was ripped apart when a rebel group attacked his community during his homeland’s civil war.
“The rebel group burned everything, crops, huts, everything,” he said through a Somali interpreter.
He sent his family to Kenya to flee the war.
“I lingered a little bit to see what could be saved,” Farah said, recalling the aftermath of his town’s destruction. “When I saw that nothing could be saved — it was getting worse and worse — I decided to go after my family.”
Life in the Kenyan refugee camp was somewhat better, but the refugees lived in huts made of sticks and grass, were harassed by police and needed ration cards to obtain meals. Farah’s wife, Sahara Shariff-Hussein Shariff-Ali, 43, added “it was a very tough job having little girls in a refugee camp.” Her 14-year-old daughter, Rodho, noted that “day and night, I was calling God to pray to deliver us.”
Deliverance has come from Catholic Family Center’s refugee resettlement program, which works with volunteers from congregations of all faiths to assist refugees in transitioning to life in America. Pat Corcoran and Joan Powell are the co-leaders of St. Anne’s eight-member resettlement team, and have been assisted by such CFC employees as Jama Abdullahi, the Somali interpreter and a case manager, and Quyen Luu, volunteer services coordinator. Abdullahi noted that CFC has helped to resettle 700 Somali families in the last several years.
Corcoran and Powell said they learned about CFC’s volunteer resettlement-team program in July of this year, and got excited about giving themselves over to the program.
“This kind of project is a hands-on project,” Corcoran said. “It’s not like putting money in an envelope …”
“And sending it away — that’s easy,” Powell added.
Powell, a former social worker, and Corcoran, a former teacher, have used their contacts in both the social-work and education fields to assist Farah’s family. Their volunteers have helped the family with shopping, tutoring, budgeting, doctors’ appointments and transportation, they said. Powell added that St. Anne erected a giving tree that parishioners used to learn what the Somalis needed, from clothes and a toaster to a broom and cleaning products. Parishioners took “leaves” off the giving tree and then brought in the items for the family that were listed on the leaves.
“We probably saved them a thousand bucks, easily,” Powell said.
“The whole church has really come together and wants to support the family,” Corcoran said.
Luu noted that the resettlement program is designed to help the refugees become self-sufficient as soon as possible. To that end, Farah’s nephew, Abdifatah, 25, is already working at a bronzed aluminum assembly plant, and Farah himself hopes to work in a grocery store. All the family members, including the six children ranging from age 2 to 16, are learning English. Indeed, the family is quite grateful for education, Corcoran said, noting she was touched when Farah visited his son Mohamed-Amin Sultan’s public school and thanked the teacher for instructing his child.
Farah’s family members said they like living in America, and Farah particularly noted how safe he feels here. The children added that they like their teachers and learning English.
“I’m amazed at how easy they’ve made it for us to work with them,” Powell said.
“Americans are going to benefit from this family,” Corcoran said. “They’re going to improve this country.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For information about Catholic Family Center’s refugee-resettlement program, call 585/546-7220 or visit www.cfcrochester.org and click on “CFC Services” then “Refugee, Immigration and Employment.”