skip to content
Primary navigation

Past Outstanding refugee Awardees

Together, we are Minnesota.

Civic Engagement Award

Novia Josiah-Isaac, MSW, LGSW, of Maplewood, came to the U.S. as a Karen refugee from Burma in 2004. In 2018, she became the first Karen immigrant to earn a master of social work degree in Minnesota, graduating from the University of St. Thomas. She also holds the distinction of being the first Karen immigrant to be a licensed social worker in the state. Josiah-Isaac works for the Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul, and has co-authored several publications related to trauma and mental health care. She has given numerous presentations and trainings on how to improve care for refugees, and how to support domestic violence survivors who are also refugees. (2020)

Dr. Obsa Abdulla Hassan, MD, of Spring Lake Park, came to the U.S. as an Oromo refugee. He is a medical doctor at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, and he recently opened Axis Family Clinic in Northeast Minneapolis. Hassan has conducted free health screenings with the Oromo Community of Minnesota organization, and he volunteers at Hadi Medical Clinic, a free clinic in Brooklyn Park serving many uninsured clients. He holds many leadership positions in the community with nonprofit organizations such as the International Oromo Health Professionals, Humanitarian Initiative to Relieve the Plight in the Horn of Africa International, Irkoo Dabbaal Association and Oromia Physicians Association. (2020)

Hani Haybe of Minneapolis is a nurse who started a free soccer program, Street Soccer Twin Cities, for disadvantaged Twin Cities youth in 2011. Haybe played pick-up soccer in the refugee camp where she grew up, even though soccer was frowned upon for Somali girls. After coming to Minnesota, she continued to play. Haybe has a passion for soccer, but her greater passion is for helping youth. Haybe’s league provides positive social interaction for immigrant youth without the barriers of league fees, uniforms or travel expenses. Street Soccer builds self-esteem for youth and helps them and their families connect to education and life-skills programs if needed. (2020)

Rufo Jiru of Shakopee is a chemist by training and profession, but humanitarian at heart. Jiru came to the U.S. as an Oromo refugee, and in 2016, she founded a nonprofit, Anole Sisters, that works to provide support and empowerment to Oromo women through community outreach, microloans, and short-term assistance to families in crisis. Jiru has also been active with the Multicultural Autism Action Network, an organization created by parents of children with disabilities in multicultural communities, ever since witnessing the challenges faced by parents of children with disabilities as a special education interpreter through the St. Paul Public School District. Jiru works tirelessly to connect families with services, provide emotional support and visit with them in their homes. (2020)

Farhiya Iman is one of the owners of Nori Cafe and Creamery in St. Cloud, and she has created a space where there is good food, great Somali tea, and also a safe place where people in Central Minnesota can learn about the culture of their Somali neighbors. Iman works with Unite Cloud, where she facilitates conversations for neighbors to learn about each other. Iman willingly shares her own story and her experience as a refugee from Somalia to help her neighbors understand some of the trauma and loss that people with refugee status endure in their journey to Minnesota. Iman is also a social worker for Stearns County. (2020)

Abdullahi Ali is the workforce case manager for Lake & Prairie Community Action Partnership in Moorhead. Ali works to improve civic engagement among residents of Clay County, and mentoring youth in leadership and academic support programs. (2018-2019)

Adan A. Ibrahim, a Franklin Public Library volunteer who serves with the Franklin Learning Center in Minneapolis, helps people prepare for the U.S. citizenship test. An elder in the community, Ibrahim has helped more than 100 people earn their U.S. citizenship in the last two years. (2018-2019)

Vayong Moua is the health equity advocacy director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota in Eagan, and former chair of DHS's Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council. Moua is a tireless advocate for equity and multicultural unity to reduce health disparities in Minnesota.(2018-2019)

Hsa Daw Mu is the Marshall Public School System's family connector, supporting parents and new students as they adjust to a new school system. He is a member of the Marshall Diversity Group, which focuses on making the Marshall community a welcoming and supportive place for all its residents.(2017)

Ayan Omar is a teacher in the St. Cloud School District who also focuses on education outside of the classroom, speaking in communities around Minnesota to create understanding about religions, races and cultures.(2017)

Bashir Omar is a cultural liaison for Faribault Public Schools. He is having a long-term, positive impact on the Faribault community by mentoring young people through leadership programs, which develop civic leadership and environmental consciousness. (2018-2019)

Fatima Said is the executive director of Project FINE in Winona, which is committed to providing support and education to immigrants and refugees to benefit everyone in the greater community, including businesses, schools and neighborhoods. Said’s leadership has enabled the organization to make life better for all families in Winona, supporting the future of their community, society and country. (2017)

Yane Sima is a registered nurse who works with the International Institute, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that provides programming for refugees and immigrants. Sima is an energetic advocate and volunteer supporting students seeking certified nursing assistant and nursing degrees in the Institute’s Medical Career Advancement program. (2018-2019)

Paw Wah Toe is the program director at the HealthEast Roselawn Clinic in Roseville and co-director of the Karen Chemical Dependency Collaborative for Health East Clinics. Her work has been honored by the Minnesota Department of Health as a successful cross-sector, multidisciplinary community collaboration. She is very involved in community leadership as well as being the assistant chair of the Women’s Department in the national Karen Baptist Church USA. (2017)

Entrepreneurship Award

True Thao, LICSW, of Cottage Grove, established True Thao Counseling Services, where he and his staff provide bilingual and bicultural mental health services to adolescents and adults. He goes well beyond counseling, organizing food and clothing drives, when necessary, to meet people’s basic needs. Thao provides this capable, compassionate care for his own clients, but also shares his skills in mentoring others. In addition to promoting mental health, Thao values the history of his Minnesota community. He and his brother restored Cedarhurst Mansion, out of love for this Minnesota treasure. Thao, who came to the U.S. as a Hmong refugee, has created jobs and added to the vibrancy of his community. (2020)

Amran Abukar of Willmar is a mother, an author and a bridge builder. She is a leader who has helped forge stronger relationships between local Somalis and the wider Willmar community. She currently works as a cultural liaison at Kennedy Elementary School and volunteers as a translator for the local police department. She has written two books: a children’s book, “I Wish I Had Big Ears,” and a historic fiction book, “Burns from Blackhawk,” which tells the struggle that she and other Somalis have gone through. Abukar has worked for Minnesota Legal Aid and has served on the Board of Family Promise of Kandiyohi County. (2020)

Jamal Ali is a documentary filmmaker and volunteer for The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project in Spring Lake Park. Ali brings awareness to the stories of Iraqi-Minnesotans, and is building a more welcoming and inclusive Minnesota. (2018-2019)

Sadia Salah opened the first cultural foods store in Marshall. One of her business values is being a place of opportunity for others, and she provides supportive employment for those who have little or no work history. (2017)

Tashitaa Tufaa is the owner and CEO of Metropolitan Transportation Network in Fridley and Minneapolis. He built a transportation business that has more than 300 fleet buses that transport children from home to school, and employs hundreds of Minnesotans. (2018-2019)

Blia Vang Vang provides elder day and foster care to members of her community in Lake Elmo. Her business aims to offer a safe home to as many people as possible and ensure that they have the resources they need. (2017)

Yohannes Zemedhin has owned and started many businesses in the Twin Cities area, including a taxi business, cleaning company, auto garage and restaurant. He has given back to the community by helping establish the first Eritrean and Ethiopian church in Minneapolis, starting a radio program in the Eritrean language of Tigrigna, and helping to found an Eritrean community center in St. Paul. (2017)

New Arrival Award

Bugondo (Blaise) Ntibonera of Minneapolis came to Minnesota as a refugee in 2017 after fleeing persecution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He is passionate about helping others, even while being so close to the transition of coming here as a refugee himself. Using his experience as a recent refugee, Ntibonera helps other refugee families on their resettlement journey, devoting significant time assisting with everything from housing to school enrollment to medical care to budgeting. He also educates the public about the violence and persecution still happening in the Congo, and what they can do to welcome refugees. Ntibonera is a friend to many and a leader in his community. (2020)

Young Leader Award

Oballa Oballaof Austin has become a trusted resource for city leaders to understand how local policies impact Austin’s rapidly changing population. Oballa was appointed by Mayor Tom Stiehm to Austin’s Human Rights Commission, and elected by his fellow students as president of the student senate at Riverland College. Oballa, who came to the U.S as an Anuak refugee, is passionate about eliminating food insecurity, and he founded his school’s first ever food pantry. Oballa is also president of LeadMN, which represents 180,000 community and technical college students across the state of Minnesota. He’s garnered statewide, bipartisan support for ending food insecurity on college campuses, resulting in the Minnesota Legislature passing the Hunger Free Campus Act in May 2019. (2020)

Ku Mo is a recent graduate of Como Park Senior High School in St. Paul, where she was involved with Upward Bound, volunteering with community service projects and tutoring younger students. Mo came to the U.S. as a Karenni refugee. She joined her school computer club, learning to fix computers to give away to families in need, and became an ambassador to new Karenni students at her school. Mo helped new families find housing, provided transportation and translated mail for families. She is now a freshman at the University of Minnesota majoring in global studies and business. She plans to go to graduate school and gain a master’s degree in nonprofit management to work in her hometown and help the immigrant community. (2020)

Mohamed Malim is founder of Dream Refugee, a nonprofit that dispels negative stereotypes about refugees, and Epimonia, a fashion accessory and apparel company where 50% of profits fund education and advancement opportunities for refugees. Both operate in Minneapolis. Malim is an innovator, social entrepreneur and humanitarian, who is using the power of storytelling to build bridges of compassion among disparate communities. (2018-2019)

Suud Olat is a St. Cloud-based filmmaker and advocate who, through his work with the ONE Minnesota Campaign, supports girls’ education, raises awareness of the plight of refugees and works toward ending extreme poverty. (2018-2019)

back to top