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Building Resilience and Hope in the Somali Diaspora

This project will address collective trauma and despair in the Somali Diaspora by building leadership grounded in healing and resilience.

Photo of Suzanne Koepplinger

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

This project will address the deep trauma resulting from generations of violence, despair and dislocation. It will promote wellness, systems change and community leadership in the Somali Diaspora. It will help people recover after experiencing trauma and strengthen the integration of community systems. Through years of deep community engagement, leadership in both locations have identified two primary needs to foster human dignity: basic control over access to and delivery of health and human services, and to address multi-generational and collective trauma and build resilience. There is increasing recognition of the role of collective trauma in disparities and violence. According to Sousan Abadian, Ph.D, “collective trauma is the term used for the pervasive consequences communities suffer when powerful external forces violate their physical and /or sociocultural integrity”. In its most extreme form, collective trauma is a disruption of the fundamental institutions of society, and of the restorative practices that can heal individuals and institutions. This project focuses on action that can bolster those healing practices and institutions. Key points include: Address fundamental wellbeing and enhance capacity of local leaders to stabilize the population through targeted training; Build practical skills sets to counter and heal collective trauma stemming from violence and leading to anger and hopelessness; Create systems to balance cultural values and those of host communities; Foster capacity to interrupt the multigenerational transmission of trauma while fostering personal and community agency. Participants will be engaged through community outreach, local media and personal recommendations. In Minnesota, this will be increased training in Muslim Chaplaincy and Islamic Mind Body Medicine. In Garissa, community seeks training to increase access to cultural birthing coaches and emergency medical technicians who are also skilled in ameliorating the impact of trauma.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The Garissa District of Northeastern Kenya and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many Somali people living in Minnesota came from the Garissa District, and family connections often encourage additional migration patterns. The focus was identified by existing relationships and voices of community engagement and community readiness in both locations. We will build a continuum of community leaders who are empowered to address basic wellbeing and promote hope and dignity in crafting sustainable solutions.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

It will enhance understanding and relationships between the Diaspora and host communities in both sites, bridge generational divides in families, and between Somali Kenyans and residents of the refugee camps. It will position community leaders to have a stronger voice in policy while equipping those preparing to relocate with adaptive skills. This approach addresses a need to focus on the capacity of the family and community to become self-sufficient and maximize their civic contributions.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

The wounds of collective trauma are widely shared in a traumatized society, and can be linked to lower economic, societal and political progress. More severe and long-lasting traumatic events, as in regions where chronic conflict is present, make conflict resolution more elusive. The damage to cultural reparative institutions and generational transmission of hopelessness can only be reversed through a dual, simultaneous approach to individual and collective healing. The human biological stress response system can too often normalize combative interactions and lead to poor health outcomes. Community leadership can shift social norms from traumatic reaction to compassionate resolutions. When trauma healing skills are taught by recognized community leaders in faith-based context, receptivity and utilization is high, resulting in a healthier population that feels less stressed and abler to take on tough challenges with thoughtful problem solving.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Teaching healing practices will generate compassion, which will inform how internal and external relationships are fostered. Compassion is transformational in nurturing forgiveness and empathy, promoting dignity, conflict resolution and cross-cultural understanding. Leadership can normalize a culture of healing as the foundation of reclaiming values. Locally, families are using Islamic Mind Body Medicine tools to renew relationships and manage anxiety and social isolation. It will alter beliefs and stigma about the impact of trauma and increase capacity of first responders and liaison personnel to work in a more trauma-responsive way. The availability of local people with skills and resources to transmit to community members will lead to a healthier population. Published evidence shows that in the Gaza, participants using these practices reduced their PTSD by more than 85% and reported significantly decreased levels of anger and enhanced feelings of hopefulness and optimism.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

In 2015 Catalyst began working with local partners in an innovative effort to support families and build resilience. Open Path Resources completed a study in 2011 to identify community priorities to raise healthy families. Imam Sharif Mohamed became a certified trainer with the Center for Mind Body Medicine, modified the training to ensure fidelity to Islamic principles, creating the Islamic Mind Body Medicine Toolkit. He and Abdi Ali, who is on track to complete CMBM certification, began teaching mind body skills in community to address collective trauma and promote leadership. The response has been overwhelming with participants reporting a desire for more training and for access to the skills for family members. We have been inspired by the tireless work of the Honorable Sophia Abdi Noor, founder of Womankind Kenya in Garissa and now a member of the Kenyan Parliament, and her ability to reflect the needs of the community to address the local impact of collective trauma.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

There is currently a breakdown of traditional social structures and authority between the generations, impacting family and community stability. These struggles are exacerbated by hostile or indifferent host communities. In Garissa, there are assaults on Somali residents and refugees by Kenyan military, adding to the collective trauma. In Minnesota, Islamophobia and disparities, the stress of relocation and adjustment to new social norms lead to loss of cultural and faith identity, language and traditions. Health, educational and economic disparities are high. There is a need to build new institutional infrastructure and leadership that focuses on the capacity of the community as an asset and prepares Somalis to be active contributors to their host communities while maintaining their heritage and faith identity. Implementation of civic leadership grounded in the compatibility between Islam and the democratic principles and standards of their host countries is key.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

All work is designed and led by local leadership, with an important role for Imam Sharif as he engages other imams and builds interfaith bridges as the only Muslim Chaplain in Minnesota. OPR is leading a project to train community leaders as Muslim Chaplains to stabilize families, foster understanding and build resilience. It is important to include women and lay leaders for new relationships with mainstream institutions. Participants attending mind body medicine training report feeling less stressed, more creative, and improved family relationships. Sophia Abdi Noor holds regular listening and needs assessments in Garissa, and embeds those recommendations into action. As the only Somali woman in the Kenyan government, she is a role model for the next generation of change agents. They have identified the need to support cultural healing leadership as a route to increased capacity for systems change and to foster new connections between families, generations, and host communities.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

OPR, ICSA and Abdi Ali are leading with partnership from the Catalyst Initiative. Five local mosques wish to partner. Hennepin County seeks deeper engagement for Somali youth in the juvenile justice system, a project that Mr. Ali has been leading. The Muslim Chaplaincy Program is building relationships with medical and correctional systems. OPR/ICSA is in relationship with faith leaders to foster interfaith understanding. Catalyst’s network includes dozens of non-profits building social norms of healing trauma. Center for Mind Body Medicine provide training. They will host several trainings in Minnesota in 2020, providing a cost-effective pathway to scale access. In Garissa, Sophia Abdi Noor, nine local women’s leadership groups, Womenkind Kenya, Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims and Council of Imams, Garissa County Health Department and other institutions have expressed interest. Sophia’s role in government will also open doors to begin to inform how military training is conducted.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Leaving a community of origin

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Catalyst Initiative at the Minneapolis Foundation as applicant. Open Path Resources (OPR), Islamic Civic Society of America (ICSA) as lead partner organizations.

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Catalyst is a trusted partner co-creating community generated solutions to toxic stress and trauma. Based at a community foundation, Catalyst is well positioned to act as fiscal sponsor and coordinator for the idea and has the capacity to bridge the continents and partnerships. ICSA is dedicated to governing for the common good while addressing the specific needs of the Muslim community. It is the institutional member of Renewing the Public Congregation. OPR, co-led by Imam Sharif Mohamed (Imam at Dar al-Hijrah Mosque) and Michael Van Keulen, organizes the civic capacity and civic infrastructure between the Somali community and larger social systems to address public issues. Abdi Ali, LGSW, M.A. is a former high school teacher and principal from Kenya with expertise in conflict resolution and restorative justice. He is a long-time associate of Sophia Abdi Noor, resident of Garissa and member of Parliament. We have all been working together on various projects for many years.

Website URL:

Catalyst Initiative at the Minneapolis Foundation: Open Path Resources: Islamic Civic Society of America

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Minneapolis, MN
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Attachments (12)

Hon. Sophia at baraza.jpg

Honorable Sophia Abdi Noor regularly hosts community baraza to learn about local needs, priorities and to share information.

Garissa baraza.jpg

Information about training opportunities and availability of health services can be shared through community meetings such as this baraza in Garissa.

Ideo Journey Map #2 Garissa.pdf

The second journey map is a vision of impact in Garissa, where we would provide training to local women as birthing coaches and include in the training teaching practices of the Islamic Mind Body Medicine Toolkit - which helps people manage stress and trauma responses by using readily available and community tested healing practices.

Ideo Journey Map #1 Minnesota.pdf

We are adding to our submission two journey maps, the first is what we envision happening in Minnesota as we connect community leaders with skills training that helps them bridge cultural gaps and misunderstanding between generations and between Western practices and faith based healing.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place article.docx

This article describes the challenges of the Somali population in Kenya and how relationships with the host community are deteriorating over time.

GHR - Support Doc #1 ICSA training 2016.DOCX

This is a flyer of one of the early Islamic Mind Body Medicine Trainings held in Minneapolis.

Catalyst Strategy Mountain One page.pdf

This is an overview of the mission, values, target population and strategy of the Catalyst Initiative.

OPR MBM Skills group eval 2015 GHR .pdf

This is an example of local Somali community response to the initial Islamic Mind Body Medicine trainings sponsored by the Catalyst Initiative. We use these pre and post test forms to understand impact of the trainings.

Media demonstrating partnerships for GHR.docx

Article in magazine highlighting the partnership between Catalyst Initiative and Open Path Resources to secure funding to support the implementation of the Muslim Chaplaincy Program.

OPR Youth Research 2011.pdf

This community based research report from Open Path Resources demonstrates the long term commitment to deep listening the community leadership is engaged in. The outcomes of this report led to the trainings with Center for Mind Body Medicine that Imam Sharif Mohamed and Abdi Ali completed, which led to Imam Sharif becoming fully certified to teach the Islamic Mind Body Medicine training he developed. This report was foundational to the Muslim Chaplaincy program as well.

Hosting refugees in Garissa article .pdf

Journal article describing the challenges and dynamics for Kenya in hosting Somali refugees. This article points out the tension between the local Somali population and the refugees, another source of trauma for the communities.

OPR Muslim Chaplaincy ppt 2018.pptx

This brief power point was developed to explain the fundamental approach to development of the Muslim Chaplaincy Program to the Bush Foundation, which provided a grant to Catalyst (fiscal sponsor) to support the work.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hello Suzanne Koepplinger! It is quite admirable to strengthen resilience through healing from trauma. Sadly, societal attitude often entrenched in the dictates of different cultures are daily violating the social and economic integrity of disabled persons, besides eroding their human dignity. Little surprise why poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, unskilled, destitution, street begging, among others are same as the definition of disability in most developing countries. So, is there any provision in the design to accommodate this most vulnerable group of all times ? Yes; the blind, deaf, dumb, lame, etc can be awesome, if trained and offered opportunities. You may agree with me that shared future of stability is incomplete without disabled persons.

Photo of Suzanne Koepplinger

Uchenna thank you so much for your comments here. The beautiful thing about using mind body healing practices that are grounded in faith and culture is that they impact every person who utilizes them. We make no distinction between different abilities, and the trainings that have taken place are intended to reach a wide audience. It would certainly be our hope that should this project be funded, we could continue our work to provide more people with access to resilience skills, birthing coaches and emergency medical personnel in the targeted areas. My best wishes.

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