Filmmaker and director Mohamed Shayk in his production studio the day before his latest film, "The Forgotten Ones," premiers at The Main Cinema in Minneapolis on Friday, July 7, 2023. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

Abdirahman Warsame is a passionate and dedicated Twin Cities activist, who advocates for increased resources for East African individuals struggling with drug abuse. As the founder of Generation Hope, a Somali-led organization, Abdirahman has assembled a team consisting of individuals in recovery, mental health professionals, and dedicated members of the community.

Through a comprehensive, holistic approach, Generation Hope has provided support and guidance to those in need, empowering them to overcome addiction and rebuild their lives.

Abdirahman has also played a pivotal role in the production of the documentary, “The Forgotten Ones.” The documentary sheds light on the often overlooked challenges faced by East African individuals battling drug addiction, aiming to increase awareness and understanding within the wider community. The documentary strives to break down stigmas and encourage compassion, ultimately fostering an environment of empathy and support for those in recovery.

In an exclusive interview with Sahan Journal, Abdirahman Warsame, who was the producer of the documentary, and Mohamed Shaykh, the film’s director, shed light on their motivations and challenges in making the film. With a focus on the opioid epidemic within the East African community, the film tackles the stigma associated with addiction and aims to give a voice to those who have been forgotten. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to produce “The Forgotten Ones”?

Abdirahman Warsame: One of the biggest reasons I advocate for people in recovery, specifically within the East African Community, is because of the high stigma, and the byproduct of that is being forgotten. And a lot of people are struggling in silence. So, we try to advocate for these individuals and shed light on a topic that’s been literally swept under the rug for years.

Can you elaborate on the key themes and messages conveyed in the film?

Mohamed Shaykh: The film highlights the struggle within the East African community regarding addiction, housing insecurity, and the day-to-day challenges faced by individuals in recovery. One of the biggest problems and the reason that people are not talking about this addiction and drug abuse is because of stigma, so we discussed that. 

These are real, authentic stories that resonate with audiences and bring attention to a topic that has long been stigmatized. We also explore the reasons behind addiction, the process of recovery, and the efforts being made in the community to combat this issue.

How did you ensure that the voices and experiences of the Somali community were accurately represented? 

Warsame: We interviewed individuals within the community who have struggled with addiction and housing insecurity. Their trust in me and the connections I’ve built over the years allowed us to capture authentic stories and represent the community’s experiences accurately.

How did you navigate cultural and religious issues in the Somali community in telling this story?

Shaykh: By collaborating and seeking mentorship, we ensured that our storytelling respected the cultural and religious nuances of the Somali community. We approached it with an open mind, genuinely seeking answers and embracing diverse perspectives. We didn’t aim to manipulate anyone’s thinking, but rather to present a mosaic of voices. 

From the imam to the psychologist, the grave digger to the mother, each individual shared their unique perspective on the same subject. Through their collective experiences, a common thread emerged.

What are you doing to promote the film and its message in the local Somali community?

Warsame: We have raised funds for the production and are actively working on getting the film out to the public. We are also in the process of opening an outreach center in the heart of Cedar Riverside, which will provide support and resources to individuals affected by addiction. By creating these platforms and engaging with the community, we aim to promote the film’s message and encourage dialogue around the issue. Additionally, we’re working with the organizers of Somali Week in marketing. The documentary has also been shared on our social media accounts.

Were there any particular moments or interviews that left a lasting impact on you?

Warsame: Absolutely, in the documentary, there was a profound moment for me. It was the first time I witnessed an active user, a young man struggling with addiction. The impact of that experience lingered with me throughout the entire day, leaving me feeling deeply saddened. As we accompanied him, we delved into his daily life, questioning how he sustained himself and met his basic needs. The harsh reality was that he was homeless, and witnessing his dire situation was truly devastating. 

Moreover, this documentary has been an incredible learning journey for me regarding addiction. Through the perspectives of psychologists, religious figures, historians, and individuals with lived experiences, a common understanding emerged: addiction is a disease that necessitates compassionate treatment. I hope that others who find themselves in a similar position will also learn and grow from this profound exploration.

How did you earn the trust of the participants who are depicted in your film, given the stigma associated with addiction in the broader community, and specifically in the Somali community?

Warsame: Many of the individuals in the film already knew me through my work and saw me as a trusted figure. I have built connections and relationships within the community, and people were willing to share their stories because they knew I would handle their experiences with sensitivity and respect. It’s a testament to the sincerity of our work and the need to bring these stories to light.

What challenges did you encounter during the production process? How did you navigate sensitive topics and stories while maintaining the integrity of the documentary?

Warsame: The challenge was capturing authentic stories while respecting the sensitivity surrounding addiction. We strived to maintain the documentary’s integrity by building trust with interviewees and ensuring their stories were represented authentically.

The opioid epidemic is a complex issue that affects various communities. What sets the Somali community apart in terms of their experiences and challenges?

Warsame: The Somali community faces unique challenges due to cultural and religious factors. We aimed to accurately represent these experiences by interviewing individuals within the community who trusted us with their stories. This allowed us to shed light on the cultural and religious dimensions while portraying the broader impact of addiction.

What kind of response have you received from the local community and wider audience to your film? Have there been any notable outcomes or changes resulting from the film’s impact?

Warsame: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The local community has embraced the film and its message, recognizing the need for dialogue and support. We have seen increased awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by the East African community regarding addiction. 

We hope that the film’s impact will lead to more resources and support being allocated to address these issues.

How does your work with Generation Hope complement the message and goals of the documentary? Can you share any success stories or initiatives undertaken by the organization?

Warsame: We have initiated successful programs, such as a peer recovery support program, which hires individuals in long-term recovery to support those in the early stages. This program provides a second chance and creates a connection between individuals who have gone through similar experiences. By working together, we aim to uplift the community and empower individuals on their recovery journey.

How can individuals, organizations, and society as a whole work together to address these challenges and create a more supportive environment for those affected?

Warsame: I think the biggest thing is that people think that the opioid epidemic or addiction is one short answer. But it’s a multifaceted, complex issue with many legs. The best way to support one another is to empower individuals in recovery so that they can understand the issue firsthand and figure out where they fit. 

Collaboration is key. Everybody has a part to play, whether it’s being a spiritual guide, a doctor providing referrals, a street outreach worker, or a parent educating others. By working together, we can create a more supportive environment for those affected by addiction.

What advice would you offer to individuals who may be inspired by your work and wish to contribute to the fight against addiction in their own communities?

Warsame: Donate! We are in the process of opening an outreach center in the heart of Cedar-Riverside. We have significant expenses for renovation and creating a space that will connect people to resources and provide support for individuals struggling with addiction and housing insecurity. 

By contributing, individuals can help bridge the gap and make a tangible impact.

What future projects or initiatives are you currently working on or planning to undertake?

Warsame: Currently, our focus is on completing the post-production of ‘Forgotten Ones’ and preparing for its release. We want to ensure that the documentary reaches a wide audience and raises awareness about addiction in the East African Community. 

In addition to that, we are also in the process of opening the outreach center as part of our Generation Hope initiative. This center will serve as a hub for connecting individuals with resources and providing support. 

How do you envision your work as an activist and filmmaker evolving to address the ever-changing landscape of addiction and community support?

Warsame: We understand that the landscape is dynamic, and we strive to adapt and stay informed. We will continue to collaborate with various stakeholders, community members, and organizations to stay connected and address the emerging issues. Our goal is to continue advocating, telling stories through films, and providing platforms for unheard voices. 

By staying engaged and responsive, we hope to contribute to positive change and create a more supportive environment for individuals affected by addiction.

How to watch “The Forgotten Ones”

  • What: Generation Hope and the MSP Film Society is hosting a screening of the documentary during Somali Week. The filmmakers will participate in a conversation after the screening. 
  • Where: The Main Cinema, 115 S.E. Main St., Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  • When: Friday, July 7, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Cost: $15

My name is Andrew Muthoni, a communication studies and multimedia journalism double major and criminal justice minor at Concordia College in Moorhead. I believe in the power of words to inform, inspire,...