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Ibrahim, who describes her age as “old enough,” was born in Somalia but moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when she was 6. She was trained as a nurse and worked in the burn unit of a hospital there.
When Khalid, the youngest of her three children, was born in Dubai, there were problems from the start. He was born by Caesarean section and doctors had trouble keeping a pulse. He had kidney failure.
Her husband, a naturalized U.S. citizen, watched over Khalid here alone for seven months before the rest of the family could reunite three years ago in Minnesota, where he works at a car rental company.
Even while others told her to read the Qur’an or seek natural remedies for Khalid, Ibrahim’s training taught her the value of modern medicine and seeking help from available resources.
“With my background I know his diagnosis. He’s having seizures. He needs medication, not herbal remedy. You can read the Qur’an for him. You can read the Bible. But still you need medicine.”
‘I have to get’
She recently completed a leadership program called Partners in Policymaking, a course over eight weekends for people with disabilities and family members of children with disabilities. The program, which was started in Minnesota in 1987, now includes programs across the globe and has more than 23,000 graduates. It is designed to teach participants the skills to advocate for themselves, from pushing for resources from social workers to testifying on their own behalf at legislative hearings.
“They will give you courage,” she said. “When you need something and they tell you, ‘No, it’s not possible. You cannot get this one.’ I used to say, ‘OK.’ Now I cannot say OK. I have to get, I have to get.”
The program, which will be accepting applications for its next class throughout the next two weeks, is not specifically directed toward immigrant or refugee communities and does not deal with cultural stereotypes or stigmas. Yet its platform of independence and self-advocacy has lent itself well for people in those groups. Since 1992, the council has funded separate outreach in the African-American, Native American and Hispanic communities to raise awareness.
“Every person comes in based upon their own background. They have to understand, this is an issue beyond my family, my neighborhood, my community,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, which administers the program.
Since completing the program, Ibrahim has become an outspoken advocate, sometimes to her own surprise. She is working again toward getting her nurse’s certification in the United States.
“When you see how some people have a disability and are dealing like normal kids, you will change what you are thinking,” she said.
Hope for Khalid
The future is uncertain for Khalid, who is subject to daily seizures and whose care is covered by Medical Assistance. He can make his displeasure known with a squint of his eyes when something is not to his liking, but he has never spoken.
Through her classes, Ibrahim has seen others with cerebral palsy communicate using a tablet or a special attachment to tap a keyboard. She believes that, at the very least, one day her son will find a way to communicate with her.
“Now I have hope,” she said.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434