It is no secret San Diego is often considered a paradise. However, for thousands of Somali refugees, San Diego is literally a paradisiacal escape.
This city is the second largest Somali and East African refugee community in the nation. Nearly 30,000 Somalis and East Africans seeking asylum call San Diego home since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991.
Their transition into a foreign culture is often difficult as refugees face countless barriers.
In 2000, the Somali Family Service of San Diego was founded to help refugee Somalis acclimate to their new lives. Next Wednesday, the organization will celebrate the community’s triumphs at the First Annual OceanLeaf Awards Celebration, at Jacobs Center in Market Creek Plaza. The ceremony will recognize six honorees for their contributions to the organization and the Somali community. Among the honorees is San Diego State graduate student Ali Artan.
Artan, 37, has lived a truly inspirational life and is a phenomenal role model for young Somalis. Seeking asylum himself, Artan first arrived in the U.S. in 2002. Artan fled from Somalia in 1992, after civil unrest broke out with the government collapse. After leaving Somalia, he resided in Sweden and Finland for approximately eight years before making San Diego his home.
In December 2007, Artan graduated from SDSU with a bachelor’s degree in information systems with a minor in international security and conflict resolutions. He is currently pursuing his MBA in project management at SDSU, while simultaneously enriching the lives of those around him through a myriad of community activities.
Artan currently works with data collection and information technology support at Advancement Via Individual Determination, an organization with a mission to “close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society.” Artan also works as an IT manager at the Fred Finch Youth Center, a nonprofit organization that helps abused, neglected and abandoned children.
When speaking with Artan, it becomes clear his heart is drawn to the advancement of others with a strong desire to make a difference. He even said the most rewarding aspect of his jobs is knowing his work contributes to a better society. Though he jokingly said, “I am getting paid for it.”
“I was mostly number-oriented growing up, but as I got older I started to appreciate literature and social sciences,” Artan said. He was always fascinated by public speaking as a child, and it has become one of his hobbies as an adult.
Although his occupations are primarily technology based, he admits, “interacting with humans is much better than with computers.” Perhaps this philosophy is partially a source of Artan’s unbelievable success in the Somali community of San Diego.
Aside from his crucial role in youth empowerment with SFS, in 2006 Artan cofounded Taxan, the only bilingual Somali newsletter in Southern California. He currently serves as editor-in-chief and designer for Taxan, which features community events, announcements and cultural information. Artan served as vice president of the Somali Student Council at SDSU from 2007 to 2008. In 2008, he was named one of SDSU’s Outstanding Student Contributors. During his free time, Artan is a volunteer translator. Although it is difficult to tell upon first introduction, Artan admits to being nervous before speaking in public.
“After I talk for two or three minutes, I get comfortable. I don’t care if Obama comes in at that point,” he said.
His charisma and wit are enchanting, and although he says it is difficult to publicly speak in another language, it is easy to understand, after speaking with Artan, why he is such an influential leader among young Somalis.
“Life is a learning process, that’s what makes it more interesting,” he said.
To improve at something, whether speaking another language or learning a new task, he said: “Socially interact with those who are better than you so that you learn from them.”
Artan said Somali refugees must excel above their American peers to advance in society and become more marketable. He has thrived and continues to excel in the San Diego community and his efforts will be rewarded when he receives recognition at the OceanLeaf Awards Celebration next Wednesday.