The buses that transport Sauk Rapids-Rice Public Schools students come from a company built by refugee Tashitaa Tufaa, who was honored Tuesday with a state award.
The Department of Human Services handed out nine Outstanding Refugee Awards this week, part of Refugee Recognition Month, according to a Tuesday release from the department.
St. Cloud State University graduate Suud Olat earned a Young Leader Award. Tufaa won an Entrepreneurship Award. The state also gave Civic Engagement Awards.
“These nine individuals have demonstrated outstanding leadership and service in their communities,” said Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey in the statement. “We are grateful to them for bringing their fresh ideas, customs and perspectives to Minnesota.”
Tufaa came to the U.S. from Ethiopia in 1992 and started his company, Metropolitan Transportation Network, in 2004, he said Tuesday. He’s 52 now.
“This is where you can exercise your talents. I come from a very corrupt system,” Tufaa said. “I was free to exercise my talent and my mind (in Minnesota) and go to school and learn.”
Tufaa first worked at a hotel in Minneapolis for $5.65 and hour, he said. Now he has more than 300 employees and provides bus services around the Twin Cities and 35-plus bus routes in Central Minnesota, including Sauk Rapids-Rice and the St. Cloud area.
Tufaa has won other awards, including the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year from the Metropolitan Economic Development Association. But the award from the Department of Human Services is special, he said.
“Minnesota has accommodated me,” Tufaa said. “It’s very, very friendly.”
Another winner, Suud Olat, left a Kenyan refugee camp in 2012 and started his American life in Nashville. He came to Minnesota in 2015 and began advocating for peace in Somalia, global health and efforts to combat poverty.
Olat wasn’t available for an interview Tuesday.
He finished his bachelor’s degree in international relations this spring at St. Cloud State University and has been an advocate for the ONE Campaign.
Olat won the state award for “his leadership in fighting extreme poverty and for mobilizing thousands of people to take action in support of girls’ education and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,” according to the Human Services release.
The DHS is home to the federally-funded Resettlement Programs Office, according to the release, which provides “the resources and stable foundation they (refugees) need to rebuild their lives, achieve their highest potential and contribute to the state.”
In 2018, 663 refugees moved to Minnesota from 22 countries.
Here’s a list of all the winners.
Civic Engagement Award:
Abdullahi Ali, Moorhead, workforce development case manager at Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership.
Adan Ibrahim, Minneapolis, volunteer at Franklin Learning Center.
Vayong Moua, Eagan, director of health equity advocacy at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and chair of the DHS Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council.
Bashir Omar, Faribault, cultural liaison at Faribault Public Schools.
Yane Sima, of St. Paul, Medical Career Advancement program volunteer at the International Institute of Minnesota.
Jamal Ali, Spring Lake Park, volunteer at the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project.
Tashitaa Tufaa, Fridley, founder and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Network.
Young Leader Award:
Mohamed Malim, Minneapolis, founder of Dream Refugee.
Suud Olat, St. Cloud, advocate for ONE Campaign.