Somali refugees in Sheboygan honor father through art

SHEBOYGAN – A family of Somali refugees settling in Sheboygan look to honor their father’s legacy through art.

The family of seven is one of thousands that have fled Somalia after years of drought and conflict have resulted in what has been called the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world today” by the UN Refugee Agency.

Their own story took a dark turn in 2009 when Al Shabaab gunmen forced their way into the family’s Mogadishu home and killed their father, an art teacher and co-founder of Picasso Art School in Somalia, and four children for practicing art. The terrorist group had sent warnings to the father telling him to close the school prior to the attack.

Now settled in Sheboygan, the entire family continues their father’s craft. Their cramped, north-side home is filled with drawings and paintings completed by the family in their first two weeks in Sheboygan.

Mohammed, step-father to the five siblings and co-founder of the art school in Somalia, often used his work to comment on the political situation in Somalia, but more recently has used his newfound hope in America as inspiration — proudly displaying his new paintings of Albert Einstein and a bald eagle.

His step-son, Abdulfatah, completed a pencil portrait of Abraham Lincoln over the course of one night after a moment of inspiration.

“The kids, the step-father, the mother and the sister are all artists,” Fatmeh Farhud, a volunteer helping the family get settled, said. “They had an art school in Somalia and used to teach art in Somalia.”

After the attack in Somalia, the family crossed the boarder into Ethiopia and stayed at a refugee camp, where they supplemented their rations by painting signs and posters for the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency).

In 2014, one of the siblings, Abdulrahim, won first prize in the UNHCR Somalia World Refugee Day art competition for a painting on the theme of ‘My Somalia,’ which depicted UNHCR’s support to refugees.

They continue to hone their craft in Sheboygan — but are running low on supplies. Financial assistance from Catholic Charities and other organizations are used for food and rent, so the family’s art supplies have quickly been depleted.

“One thing that would be a blessing to them would be art supplies,” Adam Steinbock, an associate pastor at Crossroads Community Church, said. The church has started a fund for refugees. “They have some stuff, but it’s pretty basic. The whole family is artists and art supplies is something they are really looking for.”

One of the siblings, Abdulfatah, who enrolled as a junior at Sheboygan’s South High School last week, said he hopes to help others by selling his art work.

“I want to do my best work. I want to keep improving and be a famous artist,” he said.“I want to get a big pocketbook from my artwork, and I want to use it to help refugees.”

Art supplies are not the only need for the family. Abdulfatah said he is already freezing — and the space heater in their home is not working, so as the days grow colder, the family will be looking for winter clothing.

“My hand is very cold even now when I go outside,” Abdulfatah said. “When I leave the home, I feel like my hand is ice.”

“I don’t want more snow,” he laughed.

The seven relocated to Sheboygan with the hope of a better life and education. The siblings already started school last week, and they are picking up English more and more every day, but there are still challenges to overcome. The financial assistance the family receives is meant to be short term and, within a year, they hope to find jobs and be self sufficient.

“They are good, hard working folks,” Steinbock said. “They are folks that are going to get jobs and provide for their families. They just need help getting started.”

The Somali family is one of several refugee families that have relocated to Sheboygan in recent months — and more are on the way. Volunteers helping the refugees get settled estimate that approximately 150 refugee families, many from Syria and Berma, will relocate to the Sheboygan area in the coming few years.

“We’ve heard for years about refugees and the challenges they are facing around the world. Sometimes it feels helpless when we see people suffering on the other side of the world. Now, I think there is legitimately something we can do about it,” Steinbock said. “Right in our own city we have people who have experienced this violence and war and have been forced to flee their own homes. We’ve got an opportunity, right here, to share God’s love with them.”

To donate to relief fund, checks with “Refugee Fund” in the memo line can be sent to Crossroads Community Church, 532 South 8th Street, Suite 203, Sheboygan, WI 53081.

In addition to the church fund, a You Caring page has been set up to raise funds to help refugees in Sheboygan at www.youcaring.com/4-refugee-families-syrian-somalian-refugees-657665.

This Article was originally published in the Sheboygan Press

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