Deqa Dhalac Speaks

by Morgan Dyer

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Can you tell me a little about your background? I understand you have a degree in social  work from the University of New England and a master’s in development policy and Practice from the University Of New Hampshire. What inspired you to go from studying social work to development policy?

 Actually, it’s the other way around, I first got my master’s degree in development policy and Practice thinking that I should be doing something with this degree here in the US and one day if I go back to Somalia a country that can benefit from well-educated diaspora Somalis to build its infrastructure and work on development. At that time, I was working for the City of Portland’s social services department as a case manager for clients who were survivors of torture victims and it was a rewarding, I felt sense of fulfillment and rewarding because I love to solve problems and find new ways to help clients and the work was very busy it made the day go faster I also can say the lives I touched even in a small way was very rewarding for me. So, because of the work I have been doing for my client which I love so much and know so well, I thought, I should go back to school and get a SW degree which I did.

Currently you are a South Portland city Councilor for District 5, when did you decide to take up that work, and what inspired you to do so?

As long as I could remember I was fascinated by world politics thanks to my father who was very vocal about the Somali government and how they oppressed their citizens and he went to prison many times for speaking up. When I came to the United States it took me a while to figure out the American politics, especially local level, state level we only knew the federal level politics. I started to learn more about the local level and started helping other immigrant community members to engage in their local government elections. I did not plan on running for a public office but many of my friends thought I could. A good friend of mine introduced me to the Emerge Maine Program. Emerge is an organization that trains Democratic women how to run and win for public office.  I graduated the 6-month class in 2018, ran and won my first public office at South Portland City Council in district 5. The reason that motivated me to run was the 2016 presidential elections. I saw an opportunity to educate my city that there are many other folks that are from different diverse communities and can make a difference in their communities.

What have been some of your struggles in coming to the place you are in your career?

As we all know Maine is the whitest state in the country and it has its challenges when it comes to welcoming those who are coming from far like myself. I do, however stay on the positive side of things as I have met many great humans throughout the 14 years that I lived in Maine and worked with some amazing people which to be honest erases the challenges that I had. Coming to the US I spoke English very well, so I did not have the language barriers many of my community members struggle with.

We are celebrating Women’s history month currently, and in the spirit of that, are there any awesome women who have inspired you?”

I would say many women inspired me such us my own mother who can not read or write in her own language and never been to school but knows so much when it comes to raising children, politics, cooking traditional foods in a way that is so artistic, sewing clothes and many other talents that I can’t write in here. I was also inspired by famous women like Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Princess Diana, Benazir Bhuto, Michelle Obama and Mother Teresa.”

What are you passionate about, and what change are you seeking to make in your work?

I am very passionate about health and human services in general, I would like to see where we care about our elders, those who are struggling with substance use disorder, homelessness and find ways to humanize those who are in need and make their lives little easier for them as much as we can. I believe we can do that if we put our minds and hearts in the right place. I work for the Department of Education and at my job I can make changes when it comes to educating our children about the world and themselves. The DOE is planning on bringing a social emotional learning curriculum for schools to use if they need it to better serve their students. We have been doing trauma informed practice training to all districts and cultural competency. So, I am proud to be working for the DOE.

Is there anything you are currently working on that you would like to share with the student body?

I am promoting our youth to participate in their local and national politics, I am working with many young people to register to vote. March 3rd is primary so VOTE.    I sit on several boards and I would like to see young people to give their time and sit on the boards of organizations they support.   At the city council, we are working on climate change, bringing more affordable housing to South Portland, diversifying our city hall employees.   At the DOE I am planning on cultural focused training to schools as they need it.

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