The One America Movement is excited to launch a new initiative called One America Voices. Twice a week, we will publish short interviews with Americans from all walks of life. By hearing each other’s stories, we can begin to reduce the divisiveness and polarization in our society. Enjoy – share with your networks and on social media using the hashtag: #1AmericaVoices
Impact Portfolio Strategist: Firestarter
1. You live in Somaliland, which most Americans probably haven’t heard of. Tell us about where you are.
A: Somaliland is an autonomous region in the Horn of Africa. Since declaring independence from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland has developed a functioning, peaceful democracy despite little to no assistance from the international community. I live in the capital city of Hargeisa, and spend a few days a week in Berbera to oversee the processing and packaging aspects of the home-delivery fish business I started with my friend here, Abdisalam. Life in Somaliland contains many beautiful contradictions: an unrecognized state in a volatile region where I walk safely without fear, an extremely poor country where I have faster wifi and cheaper cell service than anywhere in the US, a very conservative, religious community that is exceedingly welcoming to people from across the world. And there’s goats. A lot of goats.
2. What is Firestarter?
A: I started working with Firestarter when I was still a student at the University of Michigan. Based in Houston, Texas, Firestarter is deeply involved with refugee and migrant issues in the exceptionally diverse city. Firestarter has produced a number of documentary films, helped to build ties across a wide variety of organizations and populations, and developed a digital portal enabling invaluable connections between members of Houston’s many communities. In addition to this local work, Firestarter has taken a great interest in Somaliland’s story. The fish delivery business I run here was founded through a grant from Firestarter following years of research and a few trips to the region. I remember distinctly a conversation I had with Yan Digilov, Firestarter’s founder, while driving back from a meeting with leaders of the Somali refuge community: “Firestarter is here to provide passionate people an outlet to create the world they want to live in.”
3. How did your parents meet?
A: After dropping out of the University of Maryland, my father played guitar in a ‘60s band up and down the east coast for nearly a decade. Upon his return to his childhood hometown in suburban Maryland, my grandmother was growing antsy. She placed an ad in the Washington Jewish Week to help her erstwhile son find a partner. The way my father tells it, he went on something like 20 dates in three weeks. The last one was a young woman who had also recently returned to the DC area (from a few years of the skibum lifestyle) named Andrea Ruben. Perhaps there is some fatherly embellishment, but he called back the rest of the women to tell them he had met the woman he would marry.
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