A dozen high school girls from a Somali youth program will get a special chance to explore some of the most iconic U.S. sights at Yellowstone National Park next week as part of a growing partnership with a wilderness group.
For the third year, youth group Ka Joog and Wilderness Inquiry, the Minneapolis-based program that runs hundreds of outdoor trips a year, are bringing 12 girls from Eden Prairie, Minneapolis and St. Paul to Yellowstone. On the weeklong trip, they’ll see Old Faithful and other famous spots as well as less traveled spots, hiking the backcountry and paddling in large voyageur canoes on Yellowstone Lake.
“I’m just really happy and excited for this opportunity,” said Amal Halane, 17, of Eden Prairie. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without them organizing this.”
The trip, which takes place Aug. 21-28, is free for the girls and led by expert guides, who in turn learn more about Somali culture from the 14- to 18-year-old children of refugees. It’s part of an expanding partnership between Wilderness Inquiry and Ka Joog, which has offices in Eden Prairie, St. Paul and Minneapolis, and mentors and tutors young Somali-Americans away from trouble. (Ka Joog means “stay away” in Somali.)
This winter, the two groups will host their first dog-sledding trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, doing separate five-day trips for girls and boys with Ka Joog.
“It’s an honor and a pleasure to work with an organization like this and provide meaningful engagement with Somali youth in the state,” said Chad Dayton, Wilderness Inquiry’s director of programs and partnerships.
The Twin Cities is home to the largest Somali population in the U.S.; the largest communities are in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Eden Prairie.
In 2012, the two groups started collaborating with metro day and overnight trips, building key trust with immigrant families unfamiliar with the program, Dayton said. Then in 2013, Ka Joog and Wilderness Inquiry launched their annual Yellowstone trip. Alycia Wagner was one of the female guides on the trip.
“Some of the girls hadn’t been outside of the Twin Cities. It was a lot of first-times … cooking a whole meal outside, sleeping in a tent. … It was cool that we did it all together,” she said, adding that one of the girls remarked that some of the other tourists stared at the group of Muslim girls. “There aren’t too many people that look like them out there. But they were proud to show that this was their park too.”
Now, next week’s trip is the groups’ third — and one of seven Yellowstone trips Wilderness Inquiry is leading this summer, the most the program has ever done there. The program, which was established in 1978 to provide outdoor recreation to people with disabilities, has expanded to work with underserved youth. This year, Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures, Wilderness Inquiry’s Minnesota youth program, will work with 15,000 kids.
For Abdimalik Mohamed of Ka Joog, the partnership is a big deal for the group’s girls.
“It’s very important for our youth, especially our young women, to experience the outdoors and wilderness; it’s a very Minnesotan thing — what better way to go outdoors than Yellowstone National Park?” said Mohamed, who added that the girls returned with a new appreciation for the outdoors and more leadership skills. “The whole goal is girl empowerment. It can lead to future opportunities for these young people when they become professionals and can give back.”
A special opportunity
In Eden Prairie, Amal said she loved going camping once and is signed up for a camping and canoe class at the high school. The Yellowstone trip, which she’s going on with her 16-year-old sister, Deequa, is something they wouldn’t otherwise get to do, she said, because their parents both work and they have two young siblings.
“I’m excited,” said Deequa, adding that she’ll be researching more about Yellowstone before the big trip.
Amal added that she’s heard a lot of cool things from friends who have been to Yellowstone.
“You’re never going to have this opportunity to experience something like this you’ve never done before,” she said. “I’m really thankful and excited for it.”