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Community-led Change: Liban

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the inspiring people and organizations working to address hunger and its root causes in our communities.

My name is Liban Satu. I’m one of the community leaders here in Portland. To be precise, I’m a community leader with the Swahili speaking community.

“I am originally from Kenya. I moved to U.S. in the year 2008. I have been moving from one step to another, hoping that something will lead me to community services. I joined IRCO — I worked as a workforce specialist trying to connect the new arrivals, refugees, immigrants, to connect them with employment.

“Doing that job really energized me so much. I saw the need of people who have just arrived, the challenges they go through. And I was so happy to see somebody who arrived from the beginning — and after one year what he has achieved, after two years what he has achieved. That gives me the energy. If people are given a chance, they can do a lot.

“Through working both in the workforce department and as a career specialist, then I realized there are some people who do not fit into those areas, or are not aware about all those services. So I decided then: let me start a nonprofit organization that will give me more time. When approaching community members through emails or by inviting them to trainings and workshops, it is much easier as a community organization rather than as an individual. 

“I did not want to limit myself to my own community. So I came up with the name ‘‘RISEN’, which stands for ‘refugee, immigrant, social engagement and networking’. This is for everybody — anybody who is around my area — who needs services. And I’m able to give the services; it’s open to everyone.

“Other than that, I also work with the Census. Through my nonprofit organization, other organizations contacted me and they said ‘We want your support here’. I went through the training — I got the certificate. Since it’s not something that only applies to my community, we decided to join up with other nonprofit organizations from the African community. We know a number of people who thought the Census has nothing to do with them. Some of them have lived here for 20 years; they’ve never heard about Census. I believe all that is caused due to lack of outreach to the communities. The Census is all about budgeting and the assistance that people get — like food stamps, SNAP, funding for college scholarships and support for the elderly people who receive SSI. These are the things that we need to explain to people.

“I’m also among the ambassadors in the gardening program with the Oregon Food Bank. And some of us, being farmers back home coming here, we realized that some things are totally different in terms of farming style. This gardening, it has brought in a number of communities, and people are always interested to learn something new about the strategy of planting — how this is supposed to be done. And it’s a lot of things that we are learning and every season there’s something new.

“We have mentors who have volunteered through Oregon Food Bank. In case we have any questions, we will contact them. Oregon Food Bank has done a lot to make things much easier for the gardeners and the garden program — and they are doing all that with the intention of bringing the community together. And that is what is giving me that energy. It gives me the time with all that support.

“When I see all these things working — people getting employment, people getting resources — it makes me want to do more and more. I know I might not be able to continue this maybe for a long, long time. But I believe in the people I’m working with. I try to give them that independence. So later on in some years to come, if I have to step back, somebody else will just fit in and they’ll be able to continue.”

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