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Nyango Melissa Nambangi is the Founder and Executive Director of the Minnesota African Women Association (MAWA)
August 9, 2014
Letter to African parents in Minnesota – Backgrounder for MAWA’s BART program
Dear African parent/guardian:
We want to tell you what some issues are for African teens in Minnesota – we have been working with them since 2004 so we do know something about this. You may think “not MY teens” but just read through this. You all know how hard you work and how you are hardly home after school hours because you are struggling to earn more for your family’s upkeep. In that after-school time, if there are no responsible adults watching them, a lot can go wrong with African teens. This is why MAWA, the Minnesota African Women’s Association, had to start offering the Becoming A Responsible Teenager, BART, curriculum to African youth across the Twin Cities, thanks to a grant from the Office of Minority Health’s Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative. This is our third year of providing this educational workshop for African youth and it is based on serious realities that face our African community in Minnesota.
For over ten years, the North-West Hennepin County community service providers – schools, social services and others, tried to get the African community organizations to take the lead on providing reproductive health education because African girls made the highest number of pregnant teenagers in the region, but did not succeed. We held interminable discussions and meetings with many African organizations but nobody took a step forward while some of us figured the African community most affected should take the lead. There was a high drop-out rate from high schools and girls not proceeding to college because of pregnancy. Almost all of these pregnant teens were and are still thrown out of their homes by their parents and the father of the unborn child immediately refuses any responsibility and does absolutely nothing to help the teen and the baby when it is born.
Then a couple of years ago, MAWA learned that some 24 teens returned pregnant to one specific high school in September that year. But the horrifying part of the statistic was that of these 24 pregnant girls, 18 were of one West African nationality. This was just in one of the schools; we have no idea how bad it is or was in the other schools with a high population of African girls. 75%! That is too high and MAWA resolved to start providing teen pregnancy prevention education with parental consent. This meant educating the parents as well so they could overcome their fears that providing teen pregnancy prevention education to girls is “permitting them to become sexually active”.
Adding to the urgency was the fact that the annual report of new HIV/AIDS cases reported by the MN Department of Health recently showed that six African countries still topped the list but more horrifying was that the majority of cases were now youth between the ages of 18 and 24.
MAWA then researched various teen pregnancy prevention curricula and found the most culturally appropriate one for African teens, BART.
BART stands for Becoming a Responsible Teen: An HIV Risk Reduction Program for Adolescents. It is an HIV prevention curriculum designed primarily for African-American adolescents, ages 14-18, in non-school, community-based settings. It consists of eight sessions, 1.5 to 2 hours each, and includes interactive group discussions and role plays that have been created by teens. Teens learn to "spread the word" to their friends about HIV risks. They are encouraged to practice skills outside the group and share the results. The group provides creative solutions to reported problems.
Although the focus of BART is HIV/AIDS prevention, the curriculum includes topics and activities relevant to teen pregnancy prevention. Teens learn to clarify their own values about sexual decisions and pressures as well as practice skills to reduce sexual risk-taking. These include assertive communication, refusal techniques, self-management, and problem solving. Also, abstinence is woven throughout the curriculum and is discussed as the best way to prevent HIV infection and pregnancy.
So far, over 350 African youth have taken advantage of our program since 2012. Kudos to the Sudanese, Kenyan, Liberian and Cameroonian organizations that have worked with us and brought their youth to MAWA for this 20 hour curriculum. Some of the youth have spoken passionately in these sessions, educating others about the dangers of reckless behavior and some have become peer educators even going as far as educating their parents about what they have learned. One of our girls got an award in her school because she took on the cause of educating her peers on the dangers of HIV/AIDS a step further. We teach them as much as we possibly can, staying as culturally appropriate as possible. We teach them about abstinence too and during the Completion of Program Certificate Award Ceremony, several of them speak up on the impact of the program on their lives. My favorite remark, expressed variously by different girls through the years is this one: “After all I have learned about STDs and HIV?AIDS, I’ve decided abstinence till marriage is the only option for me.”
Some parents have also asked MAWA to provide an adult version of this program for them because, to quote one woman, “we don’t know anything about it”. We are working on that.
Parents, we have taken these kids away from our African system of education where most of us had subjects related to Reproductive Health, where girls going through rites-of-passage ceremonies got to learn about reproductive health from older women. We, as African parents still find it a taboo to hold such discussions with our kids so we leave them to fall prey to myths and deliberate false information out there. It will surprise you some of the things they are doing to avoid getting pregnant. Many still tell us, “You can’t get pregnant the first time”. We need to take care of our daughters and sons as well. We do this by educating them. Even if you are the kind of parent that can discuss everything with your child, some things he or she believes only come out when she is with her peers and feels free and uninhibited by a parent’s presence. So, send your child to MAWA where our trained BART educators will educate them for you and have them on the same page as their American peers who have a better knowledge and understanding of reproductive health.
We have two more sessions scheduled for August before they return to school Contact us if you have a daughter or son you would like to attend.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matters Arising on Speaking with Fellow African Women – the Childless Couple/Woman
Nyango Melissa Nambangi, December 28, 2014
MAWA Women and Girls, here is something we are all guilty of in our communities. It is true that we, Africans. place a high value on children. However, that does not excuse how we hound women who do not have children to the point of destroying marriages where the couple has not had a child in a year or two, immediately assuming that the woman is the infertile one. And if the poor woman is infertile, we all know our community immediately starts insulting her, calling her "a man" and treating her as though she should not even be alive. Can we please, stop this behavior? Take a look at the article below and add to that:
1) Do not even ask the woman about when "the babies will start coming". Remember that is foremost in her mind and if she is not yet expecting a baby, she and her husband probably do not want to do so right away or she may not yet be pregnant and is already very worried about it. You're not helping and if she wants your help, she will tell you.
2) In-laws, stop harassing your brother/cousin/family member's wife. Take a step back and leave the two of them to deal with their family issues. It is horrifying what African women suffer from their in-laws and it is incredible that after experiencing such pain, we the women also continue inflicting it on other women. Please, let us show how aware/educated we are by stopping certain behaviors.
Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and other Announcements
Business Opportunity for Newly Arrived Refugee or Asylum-Granted African Woman
MAWA is looking for 4 low-income West African refugee or asylee women who would like to become Licensed Family Child-Care providers. Women should be residents of Minneapolis or the North-West Hennepin area - Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, etc. If interested, please call us at 763-561-2224 and ask for Miss Sandra. This announcement is open for 2 weeks or less if filled before then.
Household Toxins (Harmful Household Cleaners) and A Recipe for a Non-Toxic Cleaner.
- Do you know that many household cleaners that you buy to clean around the home, wash your dishes, wash your clothes, etc. are actually harmful to you as your breathe them in while cleaning around the home?
- Do you know you can make your own non-toxic household cleaners at home, using vinegar and other ingredients that can be found in your refrigerator? See our MAWA video of African women making one such cleaner and how impressed they were with the results.
Here's a simple recipe for an All-Purpose Cleaner using only 3 ingredients!:
- Baking Soda - or Borax
Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water.
Store and keep.
Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc.
Or you can use a citrus-based natural all-purpose cleaner.
Another alternative is to use microfiber cloths which lift off dirt, grease and dust without the need for cleaning chemicals, because they are formulated to penetrate and trap dirt. There are many different brands of microfiber cloth and can last a long time.
This MAWA program is funded by Hennepin County Green Partners.