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St. Cloud Group Helps Oromos Adjust To Minnesota

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ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — About 500 Oromo immigrants living in central Minnesota are getting a leg up from a St. Cloud-based group that wants to help them adjust to the shock of a new landscape.

The Midwest Oromo Community, created in 2008, provides a wide variety of assistance to the Oromo, an ethnic group from the Oromia region of Ethiopia. The organization helps out with language needs, education and transportation as well as after-school programs and community outreach.

Executive director Mohamed Webo, 26, told the St. Cloud Times for a story Friday that the group has worked with local police and the school district to help increase understanding between cultures.

The Oromo people have been coming to Minnesota for about 10 years. But it’s still hard for many to adjust to life in Minnesota, and they often need help. Some, like elder Abdurazaq Adam, who moved to Minnesota in 2006, try to teach new immigrants the ropes once they arrive.

Despite making up about 35 percent of Ethiopia’s population in 2007, the Oromo still face oppression there. It’s what has forced many to move to other African countries like Kenya or Somalia or to the United States.

“We’re here in America so we can bring our children up in a certain way. … So they can be more disciplined, so they can educate themselves, they can think for themselves,” Adam said through Webo’s translation. “All of this adds up to make our children better so they can build a better society.”

Understanding the difference between the Oromo and Somalis is important too. The non-English speaking Oromo are often paired up with Somali interpreters, which doesn’t help them because they speak their own language, Afraan Oromoo. While Somalis are predominantly Muslim, the Oromo are Muslim, Christian or followers of a different religion.

“We have similar problems, but it’s a different culture, a different need,” Adam said.

Jeannette Bineham, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence & Social Innovation, has been meeting with leaders of the Midwest Oromo Community about twice a month to help with development.

Bineham said starting out in a new country — much less starting an organization there — takes time, understanding and conversation.

“If you or I were to go to Kenya, it’d feel like we’re a fish out of water, that’s probably how it feels for people who are Oromo,” Bineham said. “I think they’re doing pretty well. … They’ve learned a lot.”

The group recently won a $25,000 grant from the St. Paul-based Otto Bremer Foundation that will be divvied up among its programs. That’s in addition to a more than $12,000 grant it got last fall from the Initiative Foundation, a group aiming to improve the quality of life in 14 central Minnesota counties.

Midwest Oromo Community board chair Chris Schaller wrote the grant application to the Otto Bremer Foundation. Schaller, a chemistry professor at St, John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, has two adopted children of Oromo descent, and he feels the two cultures aren’t all that different.

“The people I’ve met have a strong work ethic,” Schaller said. “They have these values of hospitality and hard work that I think that people in the Midwest can relate to.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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