Partner Profile: Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine
This next Partner Profile features the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine, an organization that provides vital transitional services, advocacy, and programming that empowers members of the refugee community to uphold cultural identity and thrive in their new life here in Lewiston, Maine. We spoke with SBCA's Executive Director, Muhidin Libah, to learn more.
But first, a little about Muhidin... He was born in Southern Somalia, grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp, and came to the United States in 2004. He has a degree from the University of Southern Maine and has co-founded multiple nonprofits including the Middle Juba Relief and Sustainability Organization, Somali Bantu Community Association of Syracuse, and Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine. He is a family man with nine children and a tenth on the way.
That is quite a journey! And congrats on your little ones :)
Now for some SBCA Background:
Our mission is to provide vital transitional services, advocacy, and programming that empowers members of the refugee community to uphold cultural identity and thrive in their new life here in Lewiston, Maine.
Why was SBCA formed?
We, as Somali Bantu, formed out of necessity. We are an ethnic minority in Somalia, a diverse group of people that were originally brought to the country by Arab slave traders in the 19th century. We were marginalized and persecuted in Somalia causing our community to have different needs than that of ethnic Somalis. Of the 12,000 Somali Bantus that came to the United States we have advocated for ourselves by organizing Somali Bantu Community Associations in several states. Through these organizations, and our chapter here in Maine, we are able to provide vital services to, and advocate on behalf of, our people.
Who do you serve?
We mostly serve Somali Bantu folks but are open to helping anyone that walks through our door.
What specific needs are you addressing?
The needs that we are addressing depends on the time and context. Initially we spent a lot of time helping people find access to clean, safe apartments. Now that is everyone is settled in housing we are focusing on community health and food security.
What is one thing that makes your organization stand out?
Our farming project, Liberation Farms. We are serving 150 farmers with very limited staff and resources but are finding great success. Also, our organization was created by, and for, our community. We are the leaders and the decision-makers.
Are there any organizations or individuals you look to as a role model in your work? We are very inspired by the work of World Farmers in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Every year we take a field trip there and I see hundreds of farmers and different communities working side by side and am in awe of their program.
Systems Leadership Approach
How does SBCA partner with others to catalyze systems change?
Currently we are partnering with multiple organizations and institutions to form our “Land Access Team.” We believe that long-term, secure land security is food security for this community.
Given what you know now, what is one thing you wish you’d done differently as the organization developed?
We are still learning and progressing every day. As we grow and expand, I am sure we will continue to evolve and hopefully learn from our mistakes.
What is one of SBCA’s proudest achievements?
We are very proud of the food security work we are doing with Liberation Farms. Our program provides 150 farmers access to 1/10 acre plots, irrigation, and technical assistance. Oftentimes as many as 15 or 20 people are eating vegetables from a single plot, many of whom are children. This means that our program is increasing the amount of fresh, chemical-free, culturally-appropriate food that hundreds of people in our community are eating. It has also been really important for people’s mental health to have a safe space to gather outside and move their bodies and connect with the land.
What is one challenge you’re facing right now?
Anything your fellow FSLN members might be able to help with? Currently we are struggling with financial support to make our dream of land security a reality. If FSLN members would be interested in supporting us, we would be very grateful. One way to support us is by donating on our website at: https://somalibantumaine.org/donate/
Have you created any useful processes/resources that you’re particularly excited about? If so, please share!
We are happy to share our “Iskashito Model.” It is a traditional Somali method of cooperative farming. Small groups of farmers share inputs and work collaboratively on a piece of land. When it comes time to harvest or sell, the group shares the rewards evenly.