Willmar program offers immigrant girls the tools to succeed

girl talk

Hawo Matan looks over A selection of books in the young adult section at the Willmar Public Library during a tour conducted for members of the Girl Talk Club. Girl Talk, a program designed to help girls prepare for successful futures, has a group of 15 girls at Willmar Middle School and another 15 at Willmar Senior High. Tribune photo by Ron Adams 


Once a week, it’s time for some after-school Girl Talk for immigrant girls in the Willmar schools.

Girl Talk, a program designed to help girls prepare for successful futures, has a group of 15 girls at Willmar Middle School and another 15 at Willmar Senior High.

Recently, 10 Somali high school girls toured the Willmar Public Library with the program.

“The purpose is to increase readiness of immigrant girls to achieve,” said Willmar child guide Heidi Burton. Deqa Yusuf, a cultural liaison at Jefferson Learning Center, and Burton lead the groups.

The program is designed by the girls, Burton said, who work together to identify what they need to be successful, and “we try to make it happen,” she said.

Teen librarian Kelly Scherer conducted the tour and explained the different library services, with Yusuf translating as needed. The rules of the library were new to some of them, and they needed to be reminded to keep their voices down, as people come there seeking quiet.

Scherer told them some of the other rules. She told them that any food or beverages brought into the library would be confiscated and thrown away, “even water.”

They can check out books, DVDs and audiobooks at the counter, at no charge, she said, but there’s a fine charged if things aren’t returned on time. “Once it reaches $5 or more, your card is blocked,” she warned.

The books “belong to the library and are for everybody to use,” Burton reminded them. She also told them they could have to pay for a book if it gets ruined by accident or lost.

Scherer gave them forms to fill out to get library cards if they needed them. Some of the girls already had cards, and others would have to get a parent’s signature if they were younger than 18. Only one student had never been to the library before.

Yusuf and Burton said the group would return later this month with their signed applications to obtain their library cards.

The girls were pleased to see Somali children’s books. Several said they planned to check them out so that they could read to their younger siblings.

The liked the idea of audiobooks. Scherer suggested they could take out a book and the companion audiobook so that they could follow along if they were working on their English skills.

Scherer told them about the homework help available Mondays and Thursdays and pointed out the study rooms and computers available in the library.

The girls sometimes just get together to talk at their weekly meetings. At other times, they have activities like swimming and making collages.

They toured Ridgewater College with some emphasis on the nursing program, an interest of several girls. They visited the recent Festival of Nations event in the Twin Cities, where they learned about many different cultures.

The girls saw traditional items from many countries, listened to music and watched dancers, Yusuf said. At some booths, people were able to take short lessons in other languages.

They also went to Marshall to tour Southwest Minnesota State University and to go to the movie “Divergent.” For some, it was their first time inside a movie theater, Burton said.

The girls were excited to see that they could check out the series of books on which the “Divergent” film had been based.

The girls’ collages led to conversations about their hopes and dreams. Several developed plans for their futures.

Halima Nunow, 17, said she wanted to own a house and car and to go for a walk in the forest. She hopes to be a midwife, following in the footsteps of other women in her family. “I want to help my people in Somalia,” she added.

Saharo Omar, 17, said she wanted to be a math teacher and would like to do it in Willmar.

Hawo Matan, 18, wants to be a police officer. She was pleased to hear that the city of St. Paul recently swore in its first female Somali officer. “I’m going to be the next one,” she said.

“I want to sell houses,” said 15-year-old Kowsar Kosar.

Some of the younger girls, like Anisa Abdulahi and Nimo Ibrahim, both 14, said they didn’t know what they wanted to do yet, but they have enjoyed and learned in the group.

“We learned that we should go to college,” said Anisa.

“We learned about others and to respect others,” added Nimo.

A grant from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota helps provide transportation and after-school snacks for Girl Talk. Burton said the child guides hope to be able to secure ongoing funding for the girls

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