Reports from the Field

Reports from the Field

Note from the Executive Director: Our youth staff are just a little older than the AGILE participants and as such understand the challenges the girls are dealing with. They are also role models as they have been to college or are currently in college.

LaBelle Nambangi - Girls' Leadership Program & College Attendance Coordinator:

Working as the Girls Leadership Coordinator for MAWA and facilitating the African Girls Initiative for Leadership and Empowerment After-school program (AGILE) has been a rewarding experience for me. Our day at any site starts with the participants declaring their affirmation. After that we do a check in so every participant can speak out. Following that, we do a PowerPoint presentation on an African country and an influential African woman and other self-empowering subjects. When the PowerPoint presentations are over we give room for questions. We then learn a new word daily which helps with building up the participants' self-esteem and vocabulary. The last part of the program is spent on more light-hearted stuff to enable the girls have some fun while still learning more about African culture: they either learn an African dance from a professional, learn some African songs or how to cook an African dish. The day ends with snacks and thoughts and reflections on the day's activities.

I have learned from experience that the participants are well mannered and attentive when the group is made up of participants from many different African countries. In those groups with a variety of culture, the participants are always on time and participate in all the activities. When the greater majority of participants are from the same country of origin, they form a negative bond and become disruptive. When the group is disruptive it is hard for the staff to manage and complete our agenda for the day.

One of the successes I have experienced in these groups is seeing the names of some of our participants on the honor roll. Even in the groups that are difficult to manage, we have participants who are on the honor roll. We have participants in high school who plan on attaining a college education and about ten former participants who are presently in colleges and universities around the Twin Cities. For the past two years, we have taken along four of our most promising participants on a college tour with the Girl Scouts. MAWA sponsors the AGILE participants and a staff person accompanies them on this tour along with several other Girl Scouts participants and staff. This past year the tour was of colleges in North Carolina. We wish to thank the Girl Scouts of the St. Croix …. For this wonderful opportunity.

One of the challenges I have experienced is at some sites, the staff is not helpful at all. The main problem is when some staff see us as the answer to all the African girls' disciplinary problems and practically hand over fighting students to us instead of handling them the same way any other fighting students will be handled.

One of our most successful clubs is at North View Junior High school in Brooklyn Park where there is a staff person who is always very helpful. By this staff person stopping in once in a while and being very encouraging, the girls realize that AGILE is a program that the school approves of and they are more inclined to be cooperative. The NVJH group is always almost twice our recommended size. At one point we were having a hard time controlling the group as it had grown to 30 participants. The staff person came to the group and addressed the participants. She informed them that the school requested for the program and they had to treat the program with respect and no disorderly behavior will be tolerated. After her speech the participants changed their behavior for the good of the program.

If we can partner up with community organizations we can help build up the self-esteem of our African girls. We can sit down with community organizations and create a community dialogue where we would have the youths and their parents involved. From experience we have learned that our African parents spend most of their time working and little or no time for their children. The children feel neglected and act out in schools and they do complain about this to us. We have to partner up and educate the African parents on the importance of being involved in their children education. Some of our most successful participants are those who have their parents attending school events, conferences and attending our community events to see what their daughters have been learning in the AGILE program.

We know this academic year will be much better in all our sites as we have had meetings with the school district and school staff persons and each partner is aware of the challenges and have brainstormed ways to make this work better for the girls. We are very grateful to all our school and community partners first for recognizing the need of the African girls in their schools and inviting us in to administer the AGILE program.

Hani Hussein - Report on AGILE St. Paul clubs, AWE St. Paul and Minneapolis groups

The African Initiative for the Leadership and Empowerment is a program that strives for success for girls ages 8-18 who live in the Twin Cities Area. The St Paul girls program meets every Thursday at the Rondo Library's community room, thanks to Rondo Library for their support. The majority of the girls are from East Africa, which makes their challenges and issues they face every day very similar to each other. Because of the AGILE activities, the girls have created a bond of long-term friendship and support of each other by discussing problems they face each week. They look to the program for support and advice. The issues and challenges they face came from different directions; it could be a communication misunderstanding with their very traditional parents or cultural disconnection between the girls and their schools. The AGILE program staff discusses these issues with the parents and the schools respectfully if the problems persist. We often invite guest speakers from different agencies to speak to the girls. We have covered topics like leadership trainings, Domestic Violence, sexual assault presentations, St Paul Police for safety on the streets and also have taken college tours at St Kate's University with their support of interns. The Skyline Towers Apartments management has also been very supportive of the AGILE program by inviting us to their trainings. Our thanks to Ahmed for sharing resources. Thanks to the St. Paul Police and our other speakers and community partners.

The African Women's Empowerment (AWE) program brings together recently arrived African refugee women for an educational and social networking session every other Saturday. They have breakfast together and discuss various topics and issues affecting their lives. The program promotes and educates African refugee Women to be self sufficient and to support each other. We have had presentations on such topics as healthy eating, health education, civic education, Domestic Violence, elder abuse, education financial literacy, employment training, just to mention a few. Over the last few years we have had so many successes such as some of the women having supplemental income as child care providers with the assistance of our MAWA staff, and some have become activists within their communities because of the AWE program. Our main challenges are literacy in both Somali and English with in the community and also transportation. The African breakfast program would like to thank Minneapolis Public Housing for their support of using the Community room and also providing ESL classes in the High Rise, where most of the Women Meet. Our goals is to continue to provide tools for these women to be successful American families.


MAWA Sewing Co-operative (Project Regina) open its doors in February 2009 to refugee Women who are interested in sewing or who like to improve their previous skills. The Women are also required to attend English classes which they take in the mornings at the Lehman Center and sewing in the afternoon. The sewing area is conveniently located in the same building. The co-operative have Ten weeks session in which by the end of each session the students get a certificate to show that they have learned the basic sewing skills. The women who graduated so far are capable of sewing their own clothes. They also produced a fashion show of their traditional clothes a week ago. The program so far has been a success however; we have problems of retaining students. In each registration we have up to 12 students register and by the time the sessions ends we graduate about 6-7 students, this has been a challenge. We talked to the students and they said transportation was an issue and after providing bus cards we still do not graduate the same number of student that initially registered. We have been supported my MPLS public School at Lehman center by announcing the program to their students.

Executive Director's Note: Ms. Hussein runs the AWE programs in St. Paul and South Minneapolis with a majority East African population. We also have an AWE program in the Brooklyn Park area run by Ms. Ada Beh. The majority participants there are West African, mostly Liberian.

Mameneh George - School Navigator/AGILE Club Facilitator

The school Navigator works in the school setting at a Junior or Senior high school in the Brooklyn Park/Osseo school district. The Navigator spends a few hours a week at the location serving as liaison of sort between African parents and school personnel. (We are currently considering one of two schools to house our school navigator program there for this academic year).

The goals of the school navigator are to:

  • Encourage greater parental involvement in support of their children's educational experience (in the belief that even if parents are illiterate in their native tongue, they can support their children's educational experience)
  • Mobilize school and community-based resources to meet the educational needs of immigrant and refugee children
  • Build parent's capacity to access resources for their children through the provision of school navigation services (that over time, encourage parents to access resources independently)

As Navigator, I attend school meetings and organize regular meetings and activities with parents to encourage participation and involvement. A day's schedule would include phone calls to parents, meeting with parents who request it, attending meetings with school staff and appointments at conferences.

One main challenge of the program is regular parental attendance. Most parents have limited time schedules, so it can be a bit difficult to meet with them regularly.

What I like most about the program is the interaction between parents and myself. It is rewarding to understand parent's perspectives and gain some common ground through communication.

The best lesson learned so through the program is that no matter the circumstances, the best interest of each student comes first and foremost. This is important because it is the gradual building blocks for a successful future.

Community partners and schools have done an amazing job in creating available resources and lending us the time and space to continue developing great working relationships. In order for our participants to remain dedicated to the education and wellbeing of their children's future, our partners and ourselves need to encourage positive reinforcement as well as continue to build the lasting relationshipships that will meet the needs of students and parents.


Christelle Womas, Youth Staff person, Tobacco Free Youth (TFY) Program -Start Noticing

The Tobacco Free Youth Program (TFY) - start Noticing strives to educate youth in various communities including the South-Asian, African, Black American and Lao communities about various tobacco-related topics such as types of tobacco products currently marketed, advertizing techniques being used by tobacco companies to reach their audience and their target market.

Recent trends in tobacco industries such as advertizing aimed at the younger generation through ads that are placed below 3-feet levels (so they are at the eye level of a child), both in and outside of stores have been of great concern. Other practices such relating “popularity” and “fun” to tobacco usage, thus creating a positive image in the mind of our youth to attract and trap them in the tobacco smoking cycle have even been more frightening and call for immediate actions and education.

The MAWA TFY group consists of 15 - 20 African youth from high schools in Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Maple Grove, Golden Valley, New Hope and Crystal. We hold weekly meetings and our various activities include: 3-feet below activity which consists in going to gas station and counting tobacco ads that are posted below 3 feet, Store owners surveys which consists in surveying store owners and managers to find out the reasons why tobacco related ads are of such great numbers in some stores and if they can be taken down. The youth also take part in various activities organized by outside agencies, where we man a table, and hand out flyers and booklets. We also interact with the community and engage them in discussing smoking issues in our society.

We have other fun activities organized by and for the youth, such as a yearly bowling night for them to have fun, contests in which all members participate and win prices. We also encourage our youth to be creative, and encourage leadership through the formation of various teams: we had a dance team perform under the theme of “they are coming after us” at the Hoops festival this past July. We also have a skit and Video team. We have significantly improved on ways to reach out for our community by creating a Facebook page and are currently working on a MySpace page to reach a greater audience. For more information, you can log into our Facebook page and become a fan, why not?!