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Angie Wieck, Published December 16 2013

It's My Job: Somali interpreter uses skills to help community

FARGO – Camilla Jamal understands firsthand the needs of the people she serves. She knows what it is like not to understand the community’s language or its culture. She can also relate to the shock of someone’s first Minnesota winter.

Jamal, a native of Somalia, is the program director for Metro Interpreter Resource Center of Fargo-Moorhead. She arranges interpreter services for area schools, government agencies and aid organizations such as Churches United for the Homeless.

As a young girl, Jamal lost her mother during the war in Somalia. Through a sponsorship from the Save Our Children organization, she studied in Kenya and Malaysia before being accepted to attend Concordia College.

She has thrived here thanks to the support of her host family, friends, and her Concordia adviser, Ken Foster.

Jamal will graduate this month from Concordia, where she majored in global studies and minored in political science, and intends to remain in the area to help others like her.

Q. What drew you to this line of work?

I never knew English and my teachers really struggled with me. There were a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of miscommunication. I want to eliminate the communication barriers within the community.

I come from Somalia, and everybody here is a refugee. I do have a very soft heart for the people, especially the single moms. … We all know that Somalia doesn’t have government. It’s like fighting, and I lived that life. I saw many people struggle. I saw the guns, heard the guns, all the time. My mom passed away in the war, so that’s why I’m so passionate for women because I promised my mom I would do better. This is for my mom and for my community.

What are some of the challenges of your job?

Sometimes people will come in for help and when I tell them I’m from Somalia, they’ll say “No, you’re not Somali. How can you be Somali?” People expect me to wear a hijab. They expect me to focus like a woman, walk like a woman. I get many of those comments. Within the community, nobody recognizes me as Somali, and that really hurts me. I’m living in an identity crisis.

Do they ever refuse to work with you because you don’t wear a hijab?

No. I just talk to them nicely. I introduce myself and tell them I am educated here and I am here to help. Nobody has said they don’t want to work with me. They normally call here and say, “I want Camilla there,” and I feel privileged.

What do you like about the work?

I really love this job. I do. I really love working with the community. That’s my passion. There is something in me that needs this. … I feel like everybody has the right to get whatever they want. This person who doesn’t know English, who doesn’t have an education, has a right to get jobs, money, a living. A simple living. They should be treated the same. I should provide support and caring to the community regardless of who they are and that’s what the job is all about. Love your community the way you love yourself.

To submit an idea for “It’s My Job,” email businessnews@forumcomm.com

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501