Promoting the health and well being of African women and their families in Minnesota

MAWA promotes the health and well-being of African refugee and immigrant women and their families in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul through research, education, advocacy and programming.

We are a pan-African women’s nonprofit organization providing services and programming of interest to women from all African countries living in Minnesota.

MAWA is governed by a board that is made up of African and American men and women who have remarkable perspective of the issues that face African women and their families in the Twin Cities.

At MAWA we believe in the advancement of African women. We believe change comes from within and do work that will lead to social and systems change.

MAWA completes six colleges tour for African immigrant girls

Frederick Ndip, Mshale News
Published 04/13/2012

It is often said that "when you educate the man, you educate the family but when you educate the woman, you educate the community." This adage epitomizes the importance of education for the girl child.

In the United States today, the importance of a college education in improving the wellbeing of refugee and immigrant communities cannot be over emphasized. It is in this backdrop that the Minnesota African Women Association of Minnesota (MAWA) organized a 3-day college tour to six colleges in Minnesota and North Dakota for girls from the African immigrant and refugee communities of the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. The six colleges visited included Saint Cloud State University, College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph; University of Saint John's, Collegeville; Minnesota State University of Moorhead; University of North Dakota, Fargo, and University of Minnesota Duluth.

In all, twenty-nine girls participated in this second edition of the MAWA college tour that took place from March 25th to March 28th, 2012. The girls are part of MAWA's AGILE (African Girls Initiative for Leadership and Empowerment) program, an after-school program run from eight schools and community sites in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area.

The college tour is intended for African immigrant girls who are new to the American education system. The program prepares them in understanding the college application process. They also receive information on how to select and finance their college education. For those who have been admitted into colleges, it helps them take a closer look at their college choices and provides options to those who are yet to decide.

Meeting with the Admissions and Financial Aid staff at each school, the girls got firsthand information on how to seek admission into each school, how to get grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid. The girls appreciated learning of diversity and first generation college student scholarships. The participants also heard from other African students in the respective colleges on how they deal with tuition cost barriers.

The girls were encouraged to send in their applications to any of their college choices without being deterred by tuition costs. As the staff and students at each school spoke glowingly of their schools. With each college stop, the AGILE girls found each school gave them a reason to love it as each school's tour guide provided in-depth information on college life and personal experience.

One guide spoke of having changed her major six times, another spoke of the experience of being free of staff and parental pressure to attend class, do her school work and how she changed and started managing her time more responsibly after getting a fail grade. Another advised the girls to choose their classes based on whether they are "a morning person" or not and others spoke of meals, extra-curricular activities, shops and hairdressers catering to African tastes, etc.

They also learnt of the deep personal side of college. During a panel discussion, members of the panel spoke of loneliness, missing their families, and missing "seeing people who look like them on some campuses" and how they eventually found others through associations, multi-cultural centers and so forth. Others advised the girls to apply for scholarships no matter how small the amount may be because "any little amount makes a difference." The girls were also informed that there are other scholarships available in the colleges to those who are already students and that they should speak with advisors first before taking out student loans.

Aside from the excellent academic programs and extracurricular activities, other aspects of these schools appealed greatly to the girls - the library system and computer services at St. Cloud State University, the all girls St. Benedict's remarkable Study Abroad program, the health and wellness center and high values of the all-men St. John's, the access to resources at both Minnesota State University Moorhead and North Dakota State University at Fargo, whose proximity to each other surprised the girls and with the University of Duluth, the view on arrival and the attention paid to diversity were all additional attractions.

The girls paid closer attention to Dr. Diomo Motuba, a West African lecturer at Minnesota State University Moorhead who advised the girls to go to college since that was going to make their life easier in the future. Meeting African students such as the panel at St. Ben's which had a Ghanaian, Ugandan, Somali, Tanzanian and Ethiopian, and meeting past AGILE participants like Baraka at Duluth made the girls feel more at home in these colleges. Seeing the dormitories and hearing the experiences of living in the dormitory and other on-campus housing also helped them decide what kind of housing to consider as they decide on college attendance.

According Ms. Melissa Nambangi, Executive Director of MAWA, the AGILE program is MAWA's pride and joy. For Ms. Nambangi, the AGILE program has been able to motivate girls whom some had written off as being uninterested in education, difficult to work with and understand, and generally expected to not go to college due to unintended pregnancies and other cultural barriers. The college tour has been instrumental in educating, informing, and assisting AGILE participants in charting successful pathways towards post secondary education.

AGILE was started in 2004 as a response to appeals from African parents for MAWA to help their daughters adjust to life in the United States and from schools concerned with cultural obstacles to the success of African female students. Participants in this year's tour came from eight African countries and included sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Minnesota African Women's Association decade of service

Frederick Ndip, Mshale News
Published 05/04/2012

The Minnesota African Women Association turns 10 this year. This is a milestone for an organization that was conceived by two women advocates out of a desire to provide cultural competent and appropriate services to African immigrant and refugee women in distress. MAWA was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2002 with the goal of addressing critical needs of refugees and in particular, African immigrant women who faced unique economic and social challenges. During these past 10 years, the dream, vision, and hard work of its founders have helped transform the organization into a center of excellence in the education and development of African immigrant/refugee women and girls in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.

Prominent among MAWA's programs is the African Girls Initiative for Leadership & Empowerment (AGILE). The AGILE program targets 9 to 12 grade girls from African immigrant or refugee families. According to Ms. Melissa Nambangi, the Executive Director of MAWA, the AGILE program empowers African refugee girls to develop the confidence, skills, and knowledge to succeed in high school, avoid teen pregnancy, HIV infection, and domestic violence. This program also responds to critical and unique challenges that confront youths from African immigrant and refugee families.

In an attempt to gain acceptance from peers, some African immigrant youths are being indirectly pressured to choose between their African heritage and what they think is American culture. What these create is a situation where some African youths feel ashamed of their heritage due to teasing and negative stereotypes. Negotiating between an African cultural heritage and the mainstream American culture becomes a daily struggle. The AGILE program responds to these problems by tapping into the rich African cultural expressions and traditions while instilling a sense of self worth through educational and skill building activities.

Jambara Qualah, a senior of Brooklyn Center High School has been a participant of the AGILE program since her junior year in high school. Qualah stated that she was initially drawn to the program because of her desire to connect with other African immigrant students and learn about her cultural heritage. Her experience over the last two years in the program have been to say the least, memorable and life changing. Qualah states "the program taught me about my cultural values, leadership skills, financial management, and civic engagement." Most importantly, Qualah values the mentoring she receives from the program staff. Qualah is scheduled to attend the University of Minnesota or Minnesota State University, Moorhead and credits the programs for helping her through the college readiness component of the program.

Emmanuela Bonglack is another current AGILE participant and a junior at Park Center High School Brooklyn Park. Bonglack has been a participant of the AGILE program since 7th grade and she cherishes the self worth that the program has been able to instill in her. "The field trips, singing, and dancing have been fun" she stated. Bonglack has particularly valued the college tour experience since the tours have given her a broad perspective and range of college options. Bonglack graduates from high school in 2013 and plans to attend college

Magaretta Getaweh graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies & Social Justice. Getaweh was a participant of the AGILE program from 2004 to 2006 while attending Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park. During her college years, Getaweh volunteered and at one point, became an AGILE Club Facilitator. For Getaweh, the AGILE program helped her connect and share experiences with high school students from other African immigrant families attending her school. As a facilitator of the program, Getaweh stressed how important it was to share her experiences with program participants and help mentor them.

The MAWA Sewing Project has also been a feature of MAWA's activities. Over these past years, 152 African women have benefitted from MAWA's Sewing Program and graduated with basic and advanced sewing skills. The Sewing Project was designed to provide recent African refugee women with the opportunity for greater self-sufficiency, job training, and employment in an area of work and with an approach that they have indicated will address their major employment challenges. Unfortunately, funding for this program ran out in 2011 and the program was discontinued. According to Ms. Nambangi, more funding will ensure that many more African women will benefit from the program. African women have a strong tradition of using their hands for sewing, knitting, and other handicrafts and these activities can help improve on the livelihood of these families.

Besides running youth development and women's employment and social service programs, MAWA is also involved in the promotion of the African cultural heritage through choral music. Singing is part of the African cultural expression and serves to booster the leadership role of women since singing in most African cultures is led by women.

"African Harmony" is a MAWA choral group made up of members from various African countries. The group has presented in many religious institutions and community events including the International Women's Day event, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, the Science Museum, Martin Luther King Day celebrations, and at several churches including America's first Basilica, the Basilica of St Mary in Minneapolis. Songs sung by this group are mostly composed in English, French, and other African languages and their performance includes rhythmic movement, dancing, drumming. Ms. Nambangi is currently seeking Africans who sing alto and bass to join the 12-member choir. Interested parties should email Drummers and other musicians are also welcome.

In implementing all these programs, MAWA has forged partnerships and collaborations with various community organizations, public schools, and religious organizations. Ms. Nambangi credits collaboration and dedication for MAWA's success over the years. Wynfred Russell, a Community Advocate and Executive Director of the African Career, Education & Resource, Inc. (ACER) states that over the years, he has come to appreciate and develop a strong affinity for MAWA's programs and leadership. According to Russell, "MAWA's forward-thinking approach to lead, develop, and advocate for women of African descent as they support their families and communities is making a noticeable difference in the northwest suburbs." He stressed that MAWA fulfills this purpose by collaborating with community and faith leaders, and local community-based organizations on issues of health, education, and economic empowerment in African immigrant communities. MAWA addresses local needs through organized strategies that bring an added support of a network of African women across the Twin Cities whose collective efforts enhance community service and actions.

Ms. Nambangi believes that MAWA owes its 10 years successful existence to its participants, interns, volunteers, board of directors, and various members of the communities within which it operates. She credits Organizations such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Bush Foundation, Carolyn Foundation, Community Power, Leah Kayless Ingber Fund, Mardag Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Medica Foundation, Office of Higher Education, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Otto Bremer Foundation, Refugee Program Office, St. Paul Foundation, Santa Anonymous Fund, Xcel Energy Foundation, WCA Foundation, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Women's Foundation of MN and many others for their financial support to MAWA's programs and activities.

MAWA has also forged partnerships with organizations such as Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota in its quest to address teen pregnancy and reproductive health issues in the African community.

MAWA's commitment and excellence has won her the "African Nonprofit of the Year" and a Humanitarian Service Award for its Executive Director in 2008. Ms. Nambangi's leadership has also been recognized through the "Immigrant of Distinction Award" and the "Woman of Distinction Award" in 2006.

For Ms. Nambangi, MAWA's greatest achievement has been bringing African women's issues to the forefront and addressing "taboo" subjects like HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and teen pregnancy. Besides, MAWA's "Culturally Appropriate HIV/AIDS Education for Africans in Minnesota" brochure was used by educators in the US and in Africa to educate their participants about the reality of HIV/AIDS. The reception given this brochure by all these groups greatly validated MAWA's efforts in HIV/AIDS awareness.

As MAWA looks forward to the next ten years, Ms. Nambangi plans to intensify the civic participation education component of the AGILE program and participants will be encouraged to engage, and serve their respective communities through volunteering opportunities. Ms. Nambangi also hopes to expand the girls' college attendance program to reach even more African girls across the metro area and expand the mentorship program between the girls and African female professionals.

MAWA's Second AGILE Amakolo African Girls College Tour March 25-28, 2012

AGILE college tour in University of Mankato March 30, 2011

The Minnesota African Women's Association, MAWA, will be conducting its second 3-day overnight college tour to schools in St. Cloud, Collegeville and Duluth (MN) and Fargo (ND) from Sunday March 25 to Wednesday March 28, 2012. Thirty African girls accompanied by six adult chaperones will tour colleges in these cities and meet with admissions and financial aid personnel. Members of the African Students Associations in these colleges will also meet participants and answer their questions about the school and student life. Stemming from the first successful college tour of last year, this year's college tour will have a new group of seniors and juniors and visit a new set of schools as well. All selected colleges have great diversity and a good representation of African students. Participants this year are better equipped to address financial aid issues having completed a course on financial literacy funded by the Office of Higher Education through their Financial Literacy for College Attendance grant.

The Amakolo African Girls college tour is unique in that all participants are African immigrant and refugee girls - and thus overcoming certain barriers to African girls' school success - need for gender-based groups, totally free of charge to the girls, complete comfort and confidence in voicing any concerns without feeling embarrassed about their accents or proficiency in English because everyone around is new to the US, etc. It is also the result of the expressed wish of the AGILE participants to visit colleges where they know there is a good representation of African students and would consider attending themselves ((African Girls Initiative for Leadership & Empowerment program, MAWA's 7-year old after-school program run in six schools and three community sites across the Twin Cities metro). Interpreters will also be among the chaperones for the benefit of our newly arrived refugee participants with limited English Proficiency, thanks to generous funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement for African refugee girls new to the US.

With the remarkable success of last year's College Attendance program which led to all of AGILE's 17 seniors going to college and some scholarships, the current participants are very optimistic about their chances to improve their American experience by furthering their education. This college tour is provided completely free of charge to the participants, thanks to the generosity of our funders mentioned earlier as well as the Altrusa Club of St. Paul, Carolyn Foundation, Karen Viskochil Fund, Ripley Foundation, WCA Foundation and Westminster Presbyterian Church. St. Paul Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation are among MAWA's other funders.

Participants' parents also receive financial literacy education through workshops with MAWA staff and financial literacy educators. The next such workshop will be held on March 17, 2012 in the Brooklyn Park area for parents of our participants in our New Hope, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park school and community sites. Dates for the Minneapolis and St. Paul sites will be announced later with additional sessions in the summer.

Participants will be visiting St. Cloud State University, College of St. Benedict, St. John's University, Moorhead State University, North Dakota State University and the University of MN Duluth.

*MAWA's College Attendance Program is specifically tailored to newly arrived immigrant and refugee African girls and addresses all the cultural and other barriers they encounter in learning more about the American system of education as well as explaining all college attendance related information in terms they and their parents will understand. Visits to Twin Cities' colleges are carried out each trimester. MAWA is a 10-year old community based non-profit organization with various awards for its work for the advancement of African women and girls including the African Awards Non-Profit of the Year 2011.

2011 African Awards Honorees

Join us at the 3rd Annual African Awards Gala on Saturday, October 8, as we honor and celebrate this year's winners of the awards. Tickets are available online at

Being honored this year:

  • Community Leadership: Ogo Sow
  • African Business of the Year: BCS African Wholesale Food Supply
  • Non-profit Organization of the Year: Minnesota African Women's Association (MAWA)
  • Spirit of the Moran: Peter Kerre
  • Student of the Year: James Chepyegon
  • Friend of the Community: Catherine Rose
  • Artist of the Year: Fatawu Sayibu

In addition to celebrating our honorees, Desiree Rogers, the first African American to be White House Social Secretary will deliver the keynote address.

Congratulations to the Recipients of the CPS 2011 Distinguished Awards

After an extensive nomination process and the opportunity for the public to vote on the final nominees, CPS is proud to today announce the Recipients of the 2011 CPS Distinguished Awards.

CPS Distinguished Award for Service
Ms. Melissa Nambangi, Executive Director, MAWF

Melissa Nambangi Nyango Melissa is the Founder and Executive Director of the Minnesota African Women Association (MAWA). The association was formed to promote the health and well being of African refugees, immigrant women and their families in the Twin City area through research, education, advocacy and programming. Its vision is to create an organization that works with the cultural experiences and values of African women in seeking solutions to their issues in a new culture. Her work has and continues to influence hundreds of immigrant Africans in Minnesota and has led to numerous recognition and awards from the City of Minneapolis and the state.


African Girls' Initiative for Leadership and Empowerment
Group photo at the 2008 Fashion Show

African Dressed Dolls
African Dressed Dolls

Visit the Shop

MAWA proudly introduces:
African Harmony

African Harmony Appreciation

Sunday June 10, 2012
Mary Mother of the Church, Burnsville, MN

On behalf of Mary, Mother of the Church, thank you for your beautiful, joyful music on Sunday! African Harmony made Fr. Charles farewell celebration a very special event. He was deeply moved and filled with gratitude for the joy you added to his day.

I, personally, would like to express my gratitude to you and your members for your quick response to our need. When we heard Fr. Charles would have to leave the country so quickly, Fr. Jim sent out an email for ideas to make his farewell special. There was so little time. Cake was the only idea that came forward! I knew I had to take a chance and call you. Praise God that you were able to make it.

I have forwarded your website and MAWA information to our Associate of Pastoral Care. She makes recommendations about where to send special offerings that we take from time to time. I was telling her about MAWA today, based on what I read on your website, and she said you were exactly the type of organization Mary Mother looks to support. I am hoping she will contact you in the not too distant future.

God's Richest Blessings to you and your African Harmony Members.

Doreen Bondy
Associate Director of Music
Mary, Mother of the Church

Sunday, January 15, 2012
Oby, Westminster Presbyterian Church member:

"It was an awesome service with your group today! You always bring back good memories from home! Keep up the good work!!!!!"

August 13, 2011
SoulSource Fundraiser at College of St. Catherine's, St. Paul

Thanks so much, Melissa, for the wonderful music your African Harmony singers did for us on August 13th. I want to send a check for your performance which was of far surpassing value!

Thanks again so very much... we will be sharing with many others the wonderful music your provided!

Dr. Elaine R. Millam
WorkWise Coaching & Consulting

November 14, 2010
Family Day at Westminster Presbyterian Church

"Your group was awesome at the church event today and your uniform was beautiful, will post some pictures on FB later!!!!!!!"

*Sharing and preserving Africa's rich heritage of song and dance while enriching Minnesota's cultural landscape*

African Harmony is the choral group of the Minnesota African Women's Association, MAWA's cultural program. MAWA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the health and well-being of African women and their families in Minnesota. African Harmony is made up of members from various African countries and sings in various African languages, including African songs composed in English, French or other "adopted" African languages.

Songs range from choral to the traditional and contemporary. The group performs true to African tradition with a lot of movement, dancing, drumming and other forms of expression. Members of the group have been singing together for over ten years now under various temporary names. Some venues have included the International Women's Day event, Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Basilica, the Science Museum Festival of Lights, etc.

African Harmony typically performs at churches, concert halls, auditoriums, art festivals, banquets, holiday parties, civic and professional organizations, social clubs, etc. Though African Harmony does not charge a fee to perform, as a charitable organization, MAWA welcomes donations on its behalf from its venue sponsors to help defray some of the costs involved.

A typical tax-deductible contribution for an AH concert is $400 to $750. Our performances/concerts last from 20 minutes to an hour but our acceptance of a concert engagement is not based on the sponsor's ability to provide a donation to our organization. A limited number of bookings are also available each season for venues that charge admission, as well as events organized by for-profit groups; this information must be disclosed on a sponsor's Request for Performance.

To have African Harmony perform/sing at your event or church, contact us at or call 763-561-2224.

African Harmony typically performs at churches, concert halls, auditoriums, art festivals, banquets, holiday parties, civic and professional organizations, social clubs, etc. Though African Harmony does not charge a fee to perform, as a charitable organization, MAWA welcomes donations on its behalf from its venue sponsors to help defray some of the costs involved.

A typical tax-deductible contribution for an AH concert is $400 to $750. Our performances/concerts last from 20 minutes to an hour but our acceptance of a concert engagement is not based on the sponsor's ability to provide a donation to our organization. A limited number of bookings are also available each season for venues that charge admission, as well as events organized by for-profit groups; this information must be disclosed on a sponsor's Request for Performance.

To have African Harmony perform/sing at your event or church, contact us at or call 763-561-2224.

Find African Harmony on Facebook

Listen Now
Click the play button to hear sound clips


Nkosi YamiNkosi Yami

Tele Winda Longe LongoTele Winda Longe Longo

New Congolese Song


Have you lived here for 5 years or less?
Do you need help finding a JOB?

MAWA now offers REFUGEE EMPLOYMENT SERVICES and can help you find a job, fill out applications and prepare for interviews!!

Some financial assistance is available to further your skills/training if you have a work history and have lived here for 2 years but less than 5 years.

(You cannot be getting Refugee Employment Services from more than one organization, if you have questions, please ask)

OFFICE LOCATION - New Address Beginning April 21, 2010:

MAWA office, 3300 Bass Lake Rd., Suite 510, Brooklyn Center

PLEASE CALL Franklin TODAY at 763/561-2224

Recent Publications
"African-born women's and children's exposure to secondhand smoke" Read the article »

Second-hand Smoke Research Project

We have come a long way and we are now in the final stages of the project. In efforts to discover the extent at which African-born women, girls and children within the Twin Cities are affected by second hand smoke, MAWA and her collaborators conducted a second hand smoke research. The research findings will be used to raise awareness in the African immigrant community on the harmful effects of tobacco exposure among women, girls and children.

In efforts to collect information on the issue, the research was segmented into several stages. MAWA has completed four focus group discussions with African girls ages 14 through 18, interviews with 10 prominent African women in the community and a "Mid-Research Summit".

In addition to the above collection method, MAWA has successfully completed over 275 surveys of African women and girls in the metro area. The survey was a quantitative method of gathering additional information about African women and girl's exposure to second hand smoke.

Analysis of the survey is being completed by our partners at Wilder Research and findings will be revealed at the "Final Research Summit" in July. At the summit, we will debrief all findings and brainstorm ways to dispel second hand smoke exposure in the African Community. The summit will take place July 18, 2009 at a location soon to be announced. In addition to the important information that would be shared about second hand smoke during the summit, entertainment, food and other refreshments will be provided, as well as the opportunity to network.

Continue to check the website for further updates on the summit. If you have any questions, contact the Health Coordinator at or (612) 588-7666

MAWA Girls Program Coordinator Profiled in News Article
read more>>

2008 Annual Report
read more>>

Evaluation Report of the AGILE Program - Summary
read more>>

Expanded ‘About MAWA’ Website Section
read more>>

Minnesota African Women's
Association - MAWA

3300 County Rd. 10, Suite 510
(a.k.a 3300 Bass Lake Rd., Suite 510)
Brooklyn Center, MN 55429
PH: 763/561-2224; Fax: 763/561-0405


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