It has become evident that many refugees have seized their newfound opportunities. Minnesota has seen an increase in the number of African-owned businesses, school enrollment, specific television programming and in general an overall presence, particularly in Brooklyn Park; which is why the Minnesota African Women's Association (MAWA) has just opened up its newest satellite location there. Starting in about 1990, an unstable political climate forced millions of Africans out of their homes. Refugees from countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Sudan fled to the United States in search of education, employment and other economic opportunities. Many of them ended up right here in Minnesota.
Photo: Melissa Nambangi, Executive Director of MAWA
It has become evident that many refugees have seized their newfound opportunities. Minnesota has seen an increase in the number of African-owned businesses, school enrollment, specific television programming and in general an overall presence, particularly in Brooklyn Park; which is why the Minnesota African Women"s Association (MAWA) has just opened up its newest satellite location there.
Their new office, located at 7710 Brooklyn Boulevard, Suite 101, will now be a permanent home for the organization, after its staff decided that they wanted more stability than providing services out of meeting rooms in various apartment buildings.
"We have been providing services in Brooklyn Park for the last four years, but until now we haven't had a place we could call our own," said Melissa Nambangi, Executive Director of MAWA.
MAWA recognizes the various business contributions being made by African immigrants in Brooklyn Park and feel as though that may be the biggest residential draw for recent newcomers. However, they realize that to achieve those goals, many need help to develop their ability to become self-sufficient in their new country, which is the reason they come to MAWA.
"People who are new to the community and have a different accent, have a different way of looking at things, do not feel very understood in certain areas," Nambangi said. "So they feel more comfortable coming to people who they know share their cultural background and their immigrant experiences and sometimes their refugee experiences."
MAWA has made it their mission to "promote the health and well being of African refugees and immigrant women and their families in the Twin Cities area," and have created several programs they hope will fulfill that calling.
This year, MAWA teamed up with Planned Parenthood and opened an African outreach health center, a clinic that offers several types of health screenings and services free of charge. The clinic, stationed inside the new Brooklyn Park location, is open every Wednesday from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m.
They have also implemented the School Navigator program, which introduces African parents to the American education system.
"The parents who are not going to school or some of them who have maybe never went to school themselves may have problems understanding what programs are offered at the school, or they might have an issue understanding why the student might be having any kind of problems," said Joel Kaella, the School Navigator for MAWA. "For whatever problems they might have, we are here to help."
As the adults begin to learn the new ways of American culture, MAWA works with the kids to instill the old ways of the African culture through the African Girls Initiative for Leadership & Empowerment. AGILE is a program for girls ages nine to eighteen that equips them with leadership skills, self-esteem and teaches them the art of African dance, cooking, crafts and the appreciation of their culture.
"We don't like for there to be a generational gap between the parents and the children. The parents get hurt about it and younger people don't realize it's a problem," Nambangi said. "So we have to make sure the family stays together."
That is MAWA's ultimate objective.
For more information about MAWA and their services go to http://www.mawanet.org