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Shanta Link offers Somali youth in Minneapolis a helping hand on to college

There’s nothing quite like a helping-hand.

Enter Faiza Hassan and six friends, all young professionals of East African descent, all generous enough to look beyond their own dreams and goals to reach out to youth of Somali descent.

What these youth need, Hassan says, is not only financial help but also models and mentors — someone, she says, who will inspire them to see their future as something other than driving a cab for a living.

“It breaks my heart to see a kid not taking the opportunity” available in the United States, she says.

So Hassan and her friends are taking grassroots action. “We want to keep pushing them, telling them, ‘You will not be successful without a college degree.”’ Hassan says, in explaining Shanta Link, the foundation she and the others organized about a year ago to encourage Minneapolis youth of Somali descent to finish high school and go on to college.

‘We’re committed to you’

“We give them a scholarship and say, ‘We’re committed to you,’’’ Hassan tells me, speaking with fervor and a marked accent. At age 30, Hassan herself is Somali-American, though she grew up mostly in Egypt.

A graduate of Argosy University, she works as a mental health coordinator at Regions Hospital in St. Paul while also studying to become a licensed social worker. Her foundation colleagues are college graduates in varied fields, including civic engineering, political science and sociology.

So far Shanta Link founders have mostly self-funded the foundation and its office in St. Paul as well as awarded two $1,000 scholarships and begun mentoring high school and college students.

To help fund their mission Shanta Link is hosting “Somali Culture, Arts & Education Night” from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 13 at 4016 Bloomington Ave. in Minneapolis. The cost is $20 for an evening of comedy, poetry, music and a display of Somali artifacts provided by the Somali Museum. Comedic headliner is Happy Khalif, widely known in the Twin Cities Somali community.

The other founders are: Syman Ahmed, Osman Hirsi, Sandol Khalaf, Omar Mohamed, Sade Hashi and Fardosa Hassan.

“They are a very inspiring bunch of people who are really doing something for the youth in the community,’’ says Meena Natarajan, executive and literary director of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, the fiscal agent and mentor for Shanta Link, which is in the process of applying for nonprofit designation.

Scholarship winner

ZamZam Ahmed
ZamZam Ahmed

One of the two scholarship winners is ZamZam Ahmed, a freshman at St. Catherine University majoring in international business and economics and the first in her nuclear family to attend college.

She is grateful to Hassan for her encouraging her and steering her to summer internships and scholarship possibilities. Thanks to the scholarship and grants, she paid $3,700 “out of pocket” this semester but had to drop one class because she couldn’t afford the additional tuition, she says. She also works a part-time job at Mall of America.      

Ahmed feels pressure to succeed. “That’s the hard part” about college, she says, because she wants to show her younger siblings that they, like she, can get a college education, get good jobs and live better lives.

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