When Hussien Mohamed, director of Sagal Radio, went to work last Wednesday, what he saw shocked him: a fire had completely burned down the two-story building housing his station in Atlanta, Georgia.
"Everything is gone," Mohamed said. "Our station was on the second floor, and the whole floor had completely collapsed."
Since Sagal Radio was established 15 years ago, it has offered news and information in six languages — Amharic, Bhutanese/Nepali, English, Karen, Somali and Swahili, serving the refugee community in metro Atlanta and other parts of the state.
Georgia is home to one of the highest refugee populations in the country, many of them centered around the metro-Atlanta area. In 2013, Georgia received about 2,500 newly arrived refugees, a reduction of close to 50 percent from the previous year. The drop came after a request from state leaders that the federal government lower the number of refugees sent to Georgia amid concerns about strained resources.
Sagal Radio’s service-oriented programs have provided many of these new immigrants with the information they need to ease their transition to life in America. It has also become a community center of sorts for those hoping to connect to families back home.
"That studio has been part of my own history since I came to America," said Mohamed, who is a native of Ethiopia. "We built everything, little by little, with our dedication to be of service to our audience. But, when the fire broke [out], I didn't even get a chance to grab a pen from the station. It hurts a lot."
An investigation by the DeKalb Country Fire Department into the source of the blaze is ongoing. A final report has yet to be released. Mohamed says that a day before the blaze, a pipe burst because of the extreme cold weather conditions, leaving the building without heat.
Extreme cold has impacted much of the south, with temperatures well below normal for this time of year. Atlanta has remained just above freezing since almost the start of the year.
Mohamed says he called a plumber to fix the pipe the night it broke, and then left the station. The blaze erupted early the next morning.
“The only thing I am thankful for is that there are no casualties and that no one got hurt,” he said.
Unsure of whether insurance will ultimately cover the loss, Mohamed says he has faith in the community he serves and is hopeful members will step forward to help rebuild.
With the radio equipment, furniture and other valuables, Mohamed estimates the damage at around $25,000. "Now, we have to start from scratch," he said. "I think of the station a lot. I can't sleep at night anymore."
Despite the loss, Sagal Radio has continued to broadcast, renting time slots from local station WATB 1420 AM.
“It’s expensive, and we don’t have the funds to do this long-term,” said Mohamed. “But for now, this is the only way we can continue broadcasting our programs and serve the refugee and immigrant communities.”
For donations, please send a check to Sagal Radio Services, P.O. Box 831791, Stone Mountain, GA 30083, or visit the crowdrise web page