Somalia (Somali Bantu)
Somalia is a country on the eastern coast of Africa bordering the Indian Ocean. Somalia has suffered the effects of famine and civil war for many years.
Since 2003, as many as 600 refugees have been resettled from Somalia to Vermont, predominantly in Chittenden County. Most of these Somali refugees are Somali Bantus. Bantus are not natives of Somalia, but were brought to Somalia as slaves. In Somalia, the Bantus continue to experience severe and ongoing discrimination and marginalization, making them Somalia’s most vulnerable population to the atrocities rampant in Somalia’s civil war.
Most Somali Bantus were denied education in Somalia, such that an estimated 90-95% of refugees have arrived in Vermont unable to read or write.
The dominant languages of Somalia are Somali, Arabic, English, and Italian. Until recently, the Somali language was unwritten. The language has 3 dialects including the dialect Maay Maay. Most of Somali refugees in Vermont speak Maay Maay.
A great majority (97%) of Somali are Sunni Muslim. A small percentage are Christian.
Mental health and mental illness are not well understood or acknowledged among Somali. The trying conditions in which Somali and Somali Bantu have lived, however, has often negatively impacted the mental health and sense of community health among these groups. Depression, anxiety, and/or post traumatic stress are of particular concern.
Accoridng to Lym Morland, author of Somali Bantu Refugees: Cultural Considerations for Social Service Providers, the Somali Bantus are very reluctant to discuss their personal problems, due in large part, to their severe history of oppression. It is common for Somali Bantu refugees to remain quiet about challenges and injustices they experience, which may interfere with their ability to access needed mental health assessment, supports, and/or treatment.