For 30 years The Statesman published sketches of prominent residents — 1,700 in all — by the late Boise artist John Collias. Using a grease pencil and lithograph crayon, Collias captured the faces and life stories of mayors, governors and bank presidents — everyone who was anyone.
Almost all were white males. The only exception throughout 1951, for example, was Andy Horton, the Owyhee Tavern’s head waiter, who was black.
I’ve been given the privilege of writing 12 columns in this space this year, and I want to make each one count. Like Collias, I’ll also feature valley residents. However, I’ll flip the script, from spotlighting the prominent to the obscure, from males to both genders, and including crusaders you’ve never heard of.
People like Faiza Muse and Zainab Dalib.
Faiza and Zainab are refugees. They’re from one of the world’s most war-torn countries, Somalia, from which they fled death before spending years in refugee camps. Yet their stories are those we’ve come to expect — of refugees succeeding through heroic work and ambition.
Each arrived in Boise with a small grubstake from the feds. Faiza had little education, a disabled brother and two dependent younger sisters. Zainab, whose father was killed for working for the American Embassy in Somalia, came with one son, a nurse’s education, the ability to speak five languages (none of which was English), and little else.
For five years Faiza arose at 4 a.m. She worked constantly, learned English, earned a GED in night school and eventually started a day care center inspired by Maria Montessori. Her disabled brother now studies computer science at Boise State, and one sister is studying at the College of Western Idaho.
Zainab became a housekeeper at the Red Lion Hotel Boise Downtowner, added another job, learned English and also started a day care. She worked 18- to 20-hour days.
Both recently bought homes — the America dream.
Their homes are where they care for children now, licensed by the city and approved by the state.
They had help from Jannus Economic Opportunity, a Boise-based nonprofit, using a small federal grant. Jannus EO taught them business, accounting, and child-care regulations. It provided $1,300 apiece for licensing, insurance, books and startup equipment.
Today, Jannus-trained refugees operate a remarkable 64 licensed day care facilities, 10 percent of Boise’s total. Their market niche is caring for the children of people who work night shifts and the odd and broken hours that are left to refugees and poor people.
With tears in her eyes Jannus EO Director Kate Nelson says, “These women inspire my hope for humanity.”