Anthropology at Work in the World … Somali-style

  • Photo taken at WMCA's youth-led community event Beautify the Block. Photos are by Sara Bernard from the Seattle Weekly
    Photo taken at WMCA's youth-led community event Beautify the Block. Photos are by Sara Bernard from the Seattle Weekly
  • Photo taken at WMCA's youth-led community event Beautify the Block. Photos are by Sara Bernard from the Seattle Weekly
    Photo taken at WMCA's youth-led community event Beautify the Block. Photos are by Sara Bernard from the Seattle Weekly
  • Photo of youth-led Ramadan Iftaar. Photo taken by a local photographer Jama Abdirahman.
    Photo of youth-led Ramadan Iftaar. Photo taken by a local photographer Jama Abdirahman.

One of our great joys is to see how our students apply their anthropology training in so many amazing, creative, important ways. In this issue of AnthropoLog we are delighted to share one such story.

When Yasmin Habib (UW 2014) began in the Department of Anthropology's Medical Anthropology and Global Health option, she embarked on a journey of community involvement that has now developed into her life’s work and passion. She enrolled in a service learning course focused on research on health disparities in King County, and by chance the focus for that quarter was the very community in which she lives — the Somali refugee and immigrant community. In the course of volunteering for an after-school tutoring program for recently resettled Somali refugee children, Yasmin relived her own journey — from living in a refugee camp in Kenya to escape the indiscriminate violence in her homeland, Somalia, to resettling in the US at the age of six. Seeing first-hand the services offered to young children going through this very same experience, Yasmin knew at once that they needed much more than help with their schoolwork. “I felt they needed to feel a sense of belonging, to celebrate their cultural heritage, and to discover that they can thrive in and make a difference in their own communities,” recalls Yasmin. 

This inspired a vision that Yasmin has now brought to life. In 2014 she founded the World Mind Creation Academy, a grassroots organization in South Seattle’s Rainier Vista neighborhood. WMCA focuses on providing holistic youth development and culturally responsive mentoring support to refugee, immigrant and other traditionally marginalized youth. “Our aim at WMCA is to build resilience in kids by giving them a healing space, and by helping them to realize that they can make a difference.” The program started small, with Yasmin and her partners volunteering their time, and using seed grants to fund activities that were designed and carried out by the youth in the program. This modest start has now turned into an incredible success. In September 2017, Yasmin and World Mind were awarded $500,000 through King County’s Best Starts for Kids Initiative. “When I got the call telling me that we got the grant, I was in shock,” Yasmin said. “How could this idea that we brainstormed on the way back from tutoring become real?”

The Best Starts for Kids funding is being used to sustain and expand WMCA’s core program, Young Community Builders. In this program mentors provide youth within safe spaces to explore their unique cultural identities, while engaging them as active community leaders who plan, design, and implement community building projects focused on neighborhood social cohesion and the celebration of diverse cultural identities present within their neighborhoods. Past projects have included a creative music video to celebrate community life and youth voice, a Beautify the Block Party, an inter-faith Ramadan Iftaar where neighbors had the chance to pray and break the Ramadan fast together, and Feast of Stories, a celebration of poetry, stories and foods from community members’ countries of origin.

Yasmin and her fellow youth program mentors are multilingual young women from refugee and immigrant backgrounds who can all relate to the experiences of resettlement. This allows the children to bond with and witness leaders who look like them, speak their languages and identify with their multifaceted identities as Muslims, immigrants, and Americans. They work to empower youth from disadvantaged communities to become leaders who can advocate for vulnerable youth and increase the network of support available to young people.

Learn more about World Mind Creation Academy at http://wmcacademy.org.

To become involved, contact yasmin@wmcacademy.org.