African Women Connect (AWC) hosted a community summit at the Center for Families in north Minneapolis on September 26. AWC is an organization started in 2004 by Liberian native Rita Apaloo. Their mission is to assist African women immigrants with adjusting to living in the United States.
The focus of the summit was to provide a forum where African immigrant women can learn about the experiences of others who have been able to successfully make the transition.
“We use their experiences to motivate and inspire other women, and talk about the real issues we face as immigrants. So it’s nice to have all these women to share ideas [with]” says Apaloo.
A panel of women who migrated from various African countries – including Somalia, Liberia, Ethiopia, and Madagascar – spoke to the audience about the trials and tribulations they faced while living in the United States. Language barriers, financial resources, and cultural misunderstandings seemed to be the most prevalent issues.
Blatant sexism is another issue most of the women have to deal with. Panelist Felicia Ravelomanantsoa, who is originally from Madagascar, is now Vice President and Branch Manager of M&I Bank in Minneapolis. She said women have to deal with chauvinistic attitudes no matter what position they have attained. She told the audience about an incident she had recently while at work with some customers who had a problem with their account and needed to speak with a manager. After the cashier brought Felicia to the customer, she said, “They looked and me and they were like, ‘She’s the manager?’ and the employee said, ‘Yes.’ And [then] they [sic] say ‘We want to talk to a man.’ And that hurts, a lot.”
Another issue many of the women share is connecting with other African women living in America. The attendees I spoke with believe that events like these are a step in the right direction. Beatrice Nyirabahizi, a native of Rwanda, says, “I wanted to hear people’s stories. I wanted to hear about the experiences these other African women have had in Minnesota in regards to their family lives [and] their professional lives; how they got where they are now; what kind of obstacles they encountered, and how they overcame them. I think that it was very helpful to hear that from the panel. I really got what I wanted here.”