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Twenty-six-year-old Hassan Sheighei lost his leg in a gun battle ten years ago in Somalia. He was walking to the store when he heard gunfire. He saw someone running, and the Somali enemy mistook him as their intended target.

“It was always war,” he said. “They would take your mommy and daddy and beat them up, asking where is their money, where is their food.” Sheighei arrived in the U.S. with his dad and believes his mom is still alive in Somalia.

The Bantu boys and their families came together on June 8 at a Balboa Park fundraising event for the San Diego chapter of the Somali Bantu Association of America.

The association was formed by Somalis who came to the U.S. before the last decade’s wave of refugees. Their mission is to help the refugees make a “successful cultural and social transition into the U.S.,” says association president Said Abiyow.

As young boys in Somalia, they escaped with their lives to refugee camps in Kenya. With no knowledge of the English language or American culture, the United Nations helped them seek refuge in the United States. The transition was made even tougher in that the Bantu do not speak Somali. They speak a variety of native and tribal tongues.

The Bantus are the largest ethnic group in the northeastern peninsula of the African continent. Their communities continue to face “ethnic cleansing” in Somalia.

Because they were old enough to remember their homeland, I asked several of the older boys what needed to change. They each said nothing would change in Somalia; that it is a country with no peace or security. Each one said they have no desire to ever return, even though they may still have family there.

On June 8, the Somali women cooked and served food for the gathering. The event was hosted by the Jamie’s Joy Foundation — a foundation created in honor Jamie Morgan Mychael Bratton-McNeeley, a six-year-old boy who died in a car accident on La Costa Avenue in Carlsbad ten years ago.

As this year’s chosen charity, the foundation’s event raised thousands of dollars to give to the Somali Bantus.

“It’s something Jamie would have enjoyed supporting, “ said his mom, Elene Bratton. Mayor Bob Filner attended and presented a proclamation naming June 8 “Jamie’s Joy Day” in San Diego.   

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