Husband-wife team opens Somali interpreting business in Willmar, Minn.

Abdirizak Mahboub and Sahra Gure are hoping their service

A desire to stay in Willmar and help the local Somali community led a husband-wife team to form West Central Interpreting and Consultant Services of Willmar. Abdirizak Mahboub and Sahra Gure are hoping their service, staffed by recently trained professional interpreters, can help improve communications between different segments of the community and help lessen misunderstandings caused by language or cultural barriers.

Mahboub is a mechanical engineer who just finished a degree in public policy from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Gure has a degree in sociology and previously worked for Head Start in St. Paul and for other social service agencies.

“We are professionals looking for ways to be part of the larger community,” Mahboub said.

So far, the business has some smaller contracts, and hopes the Kandiyohi County Board will approve a contract in early June. Mahboub said it has been more difficult to get the area’s medical establishment interested in their services, but they are hoping to develop relationships there, too.

“We want to grow and be successful in Willmar,” he said last week in their office in downtown Willmar.

Mahboub moved to Willmar nine months ago to run the Willmar office of the African Development Center. Gure and their three children joined him a month later. Mahboub resigned from the African Development Center earlier this year, and the couple opened their business in March.

When he was researching the business, Mahboub found that professional interpreters were needed, particularly in medical settings.

West Central Interpreting worked with Ridgewater College to develop a five-week, 40-hour course for Somali-English interpreters.

The students learned medical technology and how to interpret in primary health care settings and for pediatrics, mental health, domestic violence and emergency situations. They also learned the professional ethics of interpreting and developed their listening and memory skills.

One dozen people completed the program and received their certificates two weeks ago in a ceremony hosted by West Central Interpreting and attended by the elders in the Somali community.

Mahboub came to Willmar to work with businesses and to help the recent immigrants develop financial literacy, he said.

It didn’t take long for him to see other needs in the community. Language barriers and cultural differences have led to misunderstandings in dealing with medical facilities and government agencies, he said, and the Somali elders were looking for ways to improve communication.

When he decided to leave the African Development Center, elders asked him to stay to work in the community, Mahboub said. The family likes it in Willmar and wanted to stay, too.

“Willmar is a nice place, especially for my kids,” Gure said. “We live in a nice quiet neighborhood, they can ride their bikes. … You can get anywhere in a minute.”

Gure said they hope to use their business to help people on all sides deal with frustrations caused by cultural and language barriers.

“Unless you understand, you can’t help,” she said, and that’s what they feel their business can do for the community.

The refugees who struggled and survived hardships to come here need some assistance to understand how this society works, she said, and agencies need to understand more about their needs to offer the right type of assistance. She has worked with several Somali people to iron out misunderstandings with the Minnesota Workforce Center and other agencies.

“We keep forgetting, the (Somalis) who make it here, they are resilient,” she said. “They have such a rich well of experience,” but even well-educated people have trouble making themselves understood in a new language and new country.

West Central Interpreting and Consultant Services may be reached at 320-235-0165.