African Immigrants Unite for Wellness


African immigrants in Minnesota have been urged to come together to address their common issues related to their wellness.

Giving a key note address at a well-attended Pan-African Community Organization (PACO) community forum Mitchell Davis Jr. urged African immigrants to aim “at exceeding their potential for growth” in addressing their wellness challenges.

Davis is the Director of Minority and Multi-Cultural Health at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). He told his listeners that African immigrants in Minnesota “are already empowered” as they face various cultural challenges towards getting appropriate healthcare delivery system to meet their specific needs.

Davis tells the audience about a young man from Malawi who walked all the way to Cairo and then flew to the US in search of an education, he said his determination to succeed was hinged on his goal “to succeed or die trying.”

The Malawian youth ended up with a PhD in political science and became a successful lecturer at the University of Cambridge in the UK. He said such role models should inspire our youth as “we prepare them into future leadership positions.”

Betty Wariari, PACO’s Community Health Outreach Specialist emphasized the need for all African immigrants to come together to find common solutions to their problems quoted two Swahili sayings that assert that “Unity Is Strength, while Division is a Weakness” and “Where there is a Will, there is a Way.”

Wariari said PACO had launched a Learning and Resource Center where ESL classes, tutoring for 5-12 grades and computer literacy classes would be offered. The center is intended to “improve education capacity and lifestyles” of our immigrant populations.

Japhet Nyakundi, MDH Program Specialist on Health Education and Risk-Reduction Unit for STD and HIV cases said African immigrants are disproportionately affected by the twin problems of STD and HIV.

He told his audience that even when services are available to cater for the needs of immigrant populations, there are mitigating factors that prevent the people from accessing them. For instance, he said, many HIV positive Africans shunned from taking advantage of subsidized houses for HIV infected peoples for fear of being identified as HIV patients due to the stigma associated with AIDS.

Nyakundi noted that many immigrants do not avail themselves for “Preventive HealthCare services” as many Africans “only go to see a doctor when they fall sick.”

He added, “even as they see a doctor, they assume that the doctor will discover their problems, so instead of explaining the nature of their illness to the doctor, they assume that the doctor is all-knowing so he will diagnose everything.”

He said when some immigrants come from war-ravaged countries they suffer from “war trauma,” and are shy to discuss their state of mental derangement as they feel they could be mistaken for lunatics who are traditionally looked down upon.

PACO’s Board Chairman, Dr Crispin Semakula said the mission of “Pan-African Community Organization is to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate education, support and referral services to facilitate the health and wellness of African immigrants and their families in Minnesota.”