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Cani Aden

Program manager and former refugee 

“My name is Cani. I came alone to America from a small city, Hudur, in southern Somalia in August 2015. In Hudur, I had a nonprofit organization -- a center for human rights -- that I created when I was 17 years old to help empower girls to go to school, which was not easy in my hometown. I love my country and I loved working in my hometown, but I came to America for my safety after a lot of my friends were threatened and some killed.

“When I came to America, I felt like ‘Okay, I’m in a country now where I can do whatever I like; I’m in a country where I will be free.’ But again, it was not easy because when I came to America, I couldn’t just go to work; I had to apply for a work permit and wait.

“After just two days in my new home, I Googled somewhere where I could volunteer because I’m a working man -- I don’t like to stay at home -- and I found there was a nonprofit organization near me called the Afro American Development Association. I just walked in and asked to volunteer for them. I began volunteering for them from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and that gave me the chance to do what I like to do, which is helping people.

“I was born in 1990, and my government collapsed in 1990, so I’ve been a refugee all of my life because I never saw my country with a functioning government. I have witnessed people killing each other over land, over money, over everything. Every morning before going to school, I witnessed gunfire between militias trying to take control. My father couldn’t go outside because he would be killed. I witnessed my mother going out every day to get food for our survival. The thing that I can say about my hometown in Somalia is that the people all look alike, we speak the same language, we mostly have the same faith; there’s not a lot of diversity there. Coming to America was good because I saw a lot of diverse people working together, which shows me people can come together in one country even when they are different.

“I now have a nonprofit organization in Moorhead, Minnesota, and I’m also a community leader there. People come to me with their problems and ask for me to help them. When I came to America, I helped bring the Fargo and Moorhead communities together as one community. I’ve built a lot of peace in those communities. I’ve also created a youth program in Moorhead and English as a Second Language classes where we teach immigrant parents how to speak basic English to help them find jobs. Every day I’m able to place two to four people in new jobs, and that makes me happy.

“I believe America is special because it’s diverse; I believe it’s special because we have freedom; and I believe it’s special because living in America allows us to keep chasing our dreams.”

Photograph of  Cani  Aden
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