Learning Together: Carleton students and Somali youth connect at Faribault tutoring center 

7 March 2024

Waano is a Somali-run after school tutoring center based in Faribault, Minnesota. Since the 1990’s Minnesota has been home to Somali refugees following the country’s civil war and the state has the largest Somali population in the United States. Waano’s mission is to “help people thrive” and “empower new immigrant communities to be successful.” The partnership between Carleton and Waano began in the winter of 2022 and continues to strengthen each year. 

Group of young students and their director holding signs saying Waano.

One of Waano’s program directors Sayidcali Ahmed shares that the “first goal of opening Waano was to help Somali students who live in Faribault, especially coming from an immigrant background, who can’t receive help at home from their parents.” Another program director James Whelan explains that the “role of the volunteer is to come alongside us in our mission to help the students. . . accomplish their academic goals and reach academic excellence despite other circumstances. Carleton volunteers have always proven themselves willing, able, and ready for every day and every challenge.”

Waano operates from 4:30 to 7 pm, Monday through Thursday. Tutors from both Carleton and St. Olaf carpool to Faribault every week. Typically volunteers assist 6th-12th grade students with a range of subjects including English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. One volunteer Sophie Ismail ‘26, who has been going to Waano since the winter of 2022, shares:

My favorite part about Waano, especially when working with the older kids, is figuring out challenging material together, which makes us feel like we’re a team. [Tutoring] becomes a double learning experience where I am also learning content and learning a lot about different cultures and experiences. We are learning together which makes the experience feel more comfortable and more natural.

Sayidcali additionally shared that, “Working with Carleton volunteers has been really helpful. They don’t only help with homework but they take another mile to get to know the student and be able to understand who these students are.” Waano has an organized schedule: it begins with tutors checking in with their students and writing down daily homework goals to provide a framework for the afternoon. After completing a few goals and assignments, there is always a meal break which provides an opportunity for tutors and students to socialize beyond school work and form more meaningful relationships. The evening ends with a checkout sheet, where students can reflect on how their experience went and plan for the next week together. 

Since volunteers have been coming to Waano, Sayidcali reflects that Somali students have “seen a massive improvement with their education. We were taking some data and a lot of the students do not have as much missing homework, like they used to have. I think it has to do with the tutor volunteers who come from St. Olaf and Carleton.” Working with Waano has been a meaningful experience and we are looking forward to continuing to grow our partnership with the Waano community.