St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission
“It is extremely overwhelming to be new to a community,
new to the English language, new to the American or Central Minnesota culture, and not have personal transportation options to get to necessary appointments,” says Arlene Wirth, human resources manager of the St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission.
St. Cloud is familiar with the daunting barriers that can confront newcomers to the community. The area is home to many recent immigrants and refugees, with the largest population from Somalia. Many are not yet able to speak English and are dependent on family, friends and service agencies for transportation. They are often reluctant to ride the bus because they cannot communicate with the driver or feel confident in identifying the right route to their destination.
“Initially, we tried to help passengers and drivers communicate using a picture book of common destinations,” explained Debbie Anderson, a Metro Bus community outreach/travel training specialist. “This helped but did not fix the problem.”
Committed to breaking down barriers, the St. Cloud Metropolitan Transit Commission created a travel training program to empower recent Somali immigrants to use the bus system for travel to work, medical and other appointments, school and shopping. The Transit Commission trained two Somali women, Safiya Hussein and Sayneb Shire, to serve as travel trainers. The two women have provided hundreds of individual and small group trainings, often riding the bus with program participants to their destination. They have also responded to hundreds of phone calls and conducted outreach throughout the community. A grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation supported these activities.
The training provided by Hussein and Shire included pre-trip preparation, navigation skills, pedestrian safety, bus riding skills, personal safety and system knowledge. Providing training in Somali breaks down the language barrier and allows for faster comprehension and increased confidence for the rider.
The ultimate goal is to enable Somali immigrants to live independently and connect to community resources while they are learning English. “The travel training program helps transition people into their new lives,” Wirth concludes.