Somali women learn how to climb from debt to assets

Christine McCall | 9/15/2010, 8:51 a.m.
Twenty-five Somali women graduated this summer from the Moving from Debt to Assets program, a financial literacy class...
Twenty-five Somali women graduated this summer from the Moving from Debt to Assets program, a financial literacy class run by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Hashim Siraji

Deeqo Jibril is a native of war-torn Somalia and no stranger to hardship. She spent three years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States when she was 12 years old.

Now 32, working full time and raising a family, Jibril speaks of the many mentors she had along the way that helped her build and become accustomed to life here in the United States.

In an effort to return that kindness, Jibril collaborated with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) to provide fellow Somali immigrant women in the community with an opportunity to better their financial situations.

The program is called Moving from Debt to Assets. It is a financial literacy program run by GBIO, which teaches people about money management by focusing on budgeting, setting goals, cutting spending, saving, learning how to avoid foreclosure and understanding credit.

Jibril worked to bring news of this financial literacy program to her community and it quickly attracted interest from young and old Somali women alike, but there was only room for 25 women to participate in the program this summer. The class met once a week for two-and-a-half hours over the course of six weeks, and was taught in Somali because many of the women didn’t speak English.

Before participating in the Moving from Debt to Assets program, many of these Somali women were in dire financial straits, and struggling to pay for basic essentials.

It would be natural for these women to have some hesitations about taking a financial literacy class in the beginning, but Fadumo Maow, the teacher and an active member in the Somali community said, “everybody in that class was ready to do change in their lives economically and financially.”

In fact, “they were excited,” Maow said. “They were happy to take this class.”

And happy to graduate. Earlier this summer, all 25 women received a certificate of completion and a $500 grant. Graduates were joined by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, state Rep. Byron Rushing and Boston City Councilors Chuck Turner and Ayanna Pressley to celebrate this occasion. It was the 29th GBIO Moving from Debt to Assets class to graduate.

Siraad Yusuf, a resident of Roxbury, is one of those graduates.

Yusuf left Somalia in 1989 and moved to Holland before coming to the United States in 2002 to build a new life. But when she got here she had many questions. “How can I integrate?” she asked herself. “How can I really build a new life here in Boston?”

She has done well building a life for her family and working at Whittier Street Health Center, but it wasn’t until she took this class that she really learned and understood what it meant to save money, budget and how to use credit cards. Yusuf previously had a credit card, but was afraid and didn’t know how to properly use it.  

Moving from Debt to Assets taught Yusuf how to build credit and read credit reports and scores. She also credits the program for giving her tools and basic guidelines to begin the search for her own home.