Fatima Said is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
When we hear the word inclusive, many different thoughts come to mind such as togetherness, respect and tolerance. What comes to my mind is investment, as in making a conscious effort to invest in the lives of others. This concept of spreading human kindness and respect plays a key role in my professional and personal life.
As a young woman, I had a good life. My family and I were happy, healthy and relatively safe in our home in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This all changed in the early 1990’s when war broke out in our country and we were forced to leave our home. Fortunately, all of my family members survived and were able to reach safety in other countries. This was when I became a refugee. During our first several months in camp, we were fighting to survive, living a day at a time. After a while, things improved when camp staff began to see the value of investing in us. We were given space to start a school and this helped us to create a more ‘normal’ life, which instilled in us a hope for the future.
When I arrived in Rochester, MN on December 9, 1993, I was amazed at the generosity and kindness of my new community. We were greeted at the airport by a group of people, all new to us. They welcomed us with open arms and invested so much of their time and love into me and my family. It is absolutely impossible to describe how their kindness helped us; it was so motivating to have friends and supporters when we first arrived. Their influence encouraged us to work harder to achieve our dreams and give back to the community.
I am thankful when I think of those individuals today and proud that I am once again in the position to invest in others through my role as Executive Director at Project FINE. We are a small nonprofit organization located in Winona, MN with a huge and powerful mission: to strengthen and enrich our community by facilitating the integration of people who are ethnically diverse. Each day our staff, board, and community partners are working to build inclusion and invest in the lives of newcomers in our region.
We do this in many ways – through educational programming, language services, diversity training, partnership building and community involvement. All of these activities build upon the importance of investing in others and an understanding of the power of goodwill and human kindness. Immigrants and refugees come to our neighborhoods, communities and nation for many reasons, but we all have hopes and dreams and deserve to be respected and have the opportunity to build a better life.
While not everyone has the same background or opportunity as I do, you can still take part in building an inclusive community. Start by being open-minded and look for opportunities to interact with others. Listen to the stories of newcomers in your community and make an effort to get to know them. We all have different cultures, histories and stories and our personal and collective lives benefit greatly from investing in others. I encourage you to think about how you can invest in others – together, our efforts help create a stronger, more inclusive community and country.
Fatima Said is Executive Director of Project FINE (Focus on Integrating Newcomers through Education), a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving immigrants and refugees in Winona, MN and the surrounding area.