New Americans adjust to life in Minnesota

Habon and Mohamed live with their three children in a rented duplex in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul. They are some of our newest neighbors, arriving in Minnesota last spring via Catholic Charities’ New American Services program.

It’s 8,000 miles—and worlds—from where they’ve come from, the Nakavale Refugee Camp in Uganda.

Habon and Mohamed sought refuge in Africa’s oldest refugee camp to flee violence in their home country of Somalia back in the 1990s. They met and married in the camp, and had their children there.

For their children Abdirahman, Adnan and Sumaya, Saint Paul is their first home outside of Nakivale, their first brush with stability.

“We are happy we have a home, we have our own place,” Mohamed said while sitting with his family in the living room of their new home, still wearing a jacket on a crisp autumn afternoon despite being indoors. Turning on the heat takes money and money is tight these days.

Minnesota’s climate, they are discovering, is a learning process.

The family was curious when the green leaves on the trees started to transition to gold, orange and red. They fear winter, and wonder if it really is as bad as they have been warned. One of their favorite things about Minnesota is unexpected: mosquitoes.

“If my kids get bit here, I don’t have to worry about them getting sick,” Habon explains while holding 2-year-old daughter Sumaya, her youngest child. Minnesotans needn’t fear malaria.

They are settling into their new American life with assistance from Catholic Charities’ New American Services. The program provides case management and reunification assistance to refugees coming to our community through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Beyond greeting the family at the airport, services include finding safe and affordable housing, helping families enroll children in school and helping adults find English language classes. The services, and needs, vary with each family. Case workers in the New American Services program learn to expect the unexpected and work to respond to the unique needs of refugees entering Minnesota.

When Habon and Mohamed arrived in the United States, Habon was in a wheelchair. She had broken her leg while fetching water in the camp. While she had medical treatment there, it wasn’t sufficient and left her unable to walk.

Catholic Charities was able to work quickly to connect Habon with the medical care she needed—surgeries and extensive physical therapy.

While Habon was in the hospital, Mohamed was left to navigate parenthood on his own—in a brand new country where he didn’t know the culture, the language or the bus schedule. It meant Mohamed had to wait to learn English or look for a job, as he had to take care of the three children around the clock. But their family is a team, and, together, they prevailed.

“When I started taking care of the kids, it was very difficult,” Mohamed said. “Eventually, I got the hang of it.”

The family is together again. Habon’s walking continues to improve. While she still uses crutches, she feels stronger. Mohamed is attending English language classes and looking for work. Habon will soon start English classes. Their oldest, Abdirahman, is in first grade. He’s still afraid to go outside and play, but loves learning to read. They are all adjusting to and enjoying their new life in Minnesota.

More than anything, they are thankful to be settling into their new life as Americans.

“Imagine, when we were coming we didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, we were met at the airport by Catholic Charities staff. They made us feel so comfortable. We had a place to live. There was food in the cupboards,” Habon said.