MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota has the highest population of Somalis outside the country itself.
Three close friends from the Twin Cities think because of that, all Minnesotans should know more about the country of Somalia. And it took extreme measures for them to make that connection.
Riverside Plaza — the bright towers that mark the Minneapolis skyline — host many a story: of friendship, of food, of coffee. of love.
Somalia is a pivotal part of Minnesota’s story, from the Cedar Riverside neighborhood and beyond.
“When we lived in Elliot Park, we play soccer with Somali folks. That was probably my first interaction with the Somali community,” said Simon Trautmann.
Growing up, Trautmann and Ethan Miller knew many Somalis live in Minnesota. But it wasn’t until they went to college at North Central University in the early 2000s that they got to know their Somali neighbors — who became Somali friends.
“Not necessarily because I’m their friend, because I wear a hijab, because I’m Muslim, because I’m African American, because I’m immigrant,” said Saiciido Shaie. “It’s just that one-on-one human connection.”
Shaie was born in Somalia and educated in Minnesota. She started a nonprofit after college: an after-school mentoring programs for children of Somali decent. Ten years ago, a friend connected her Trautmann, then a young lawyer.
“The ink was still wet on my law degree,” Trautmann said. “[Shaie said] ‘You should be their lawyer.’ So that was the basis of our friendship, and my connection, deeper connection to the Somali Community.”
The three became friends, taking on each other’s highs and lows, especially after Shaie’s uncle in Somalia died from not having enough water.
“This was the first time in my life that a famine had ever involved people that I knew,” Trautmann said. “It wasn’t the abstraction of people on the television or people on the other side of the world, but friends like Saiciido were sending me video and telling me stories of their family members.”
They decided together they needed to do something, so the three of them flew together to Somalia. Miller documented the journey.
When they got there, they toured the damage to see what the famine had left behind and took away.
“It would probably be like us going to Lake of the Isles, and it being not there. Just nonexistent,” Miller said. “The effect of that on their livestock was a huge thing.”
They toured a hospital destroyed by explosives, and met a doctor who is working to help the country recover. That is what they say moved them most: all the people who are working to rebuild, and many of whom are using the knowledge they learned in the United States.
“There’s a lot of Somalis from the Twin Cities that are in Somalia or in Kenya doing work,” Shaie said.
So they decided to also do some work, taking their knowledge and video footage back to their friends in Minnesota.
They were able to raise enough support to send $128,000 in medical supplies and 250,000 meals to Somalia.
“They’re not just a lost cause. There’s hope there. They need help,” Miller said. “We need to come alongside them, help alongside them, but there’s hope.”
A journey they say they will keep sharing. They are neighbors who understand they each have more in common than they have differences.
“It’s just like people are the same, and we all are interconnected in somehow, someway because of that human-to-human connection,” Shaie said
The three plan to return to Somalia. Click here to support their efforts.