Heroes of Orange County: Foundation Assists Refugees and Low-Income Immigrants

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Meymuna Hussein-Cattan. Photo credit: Mariah Tauger

Here’s to the best among us—those who overcome great challenges, plunge headfirst
into danger, and fight the good fight. They’re selfless. They’re courageous. Simply put, they make our world a better place.

 

Meymuna Hussein-Cattan, co-founder of the Santa Ana-based Tiyya Foundation, offers support for refugees and low-income immigrants.

Hussein-Cattan grew up watching her Ethiopian mother visit fellow refugees who’d recently arrived in Orange County, often taking sweet treats as they sipped tea and talked as friends do.

Sharing traditional foods and offering support to newcomers is at the heart of Flavors from Afar, the newest initiative of the Tiyya Foundation, the nonprofit that Hussein-Cattan founded in 2010 with her mother, Owliya Dima. The catering program hires refugee chefs and home cooks and helps them learn to start their own businesses.

Last year, the foundation served nearly 800 children and adult refugees and immigrants; through July this year, it had helped more than 850 people through its programs, which include diaper and school supply drives, a youth soccer camp and tutoring program, a family mentoring service, workplace training, and marriage and family counseling.

These are services Hussein-Cattan wishes her family had access to in the 1980s. Her parents each fled civil unrest and violence in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s. They met and married in a refugee camp in Somalia, where Hussein-Cattan was born. Her father immigrated to the U.S. first, and the family was united in 1984 when she was 5.

“My parents worked really hard for my sisters and me to focus on our education,” Hussein-Cattan says. “There were many times when my dad was reminded that he’s not welcome in Orange County. People would make comments or yell things. There were experiences that were hostile.”

The first woman in her family to graduate from high school and to attain a master’s degree, she credits her mother as the inspiration for Tiyya, which means “my love” in Oromo, their first language.

PAYING IT FORWARD
Meymuna Hussein-Cattan is inspired by …
“Vattana Peong, executive director of The Cambodian Family Community Center. He revived a struggling organization, straight out of grad school. He’s my all-time hero these days.”

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