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Local Conference Tackles Health and Behavior in African Youth

On Dec. 13, the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation will hold an all-day conference in Silver Spring on charting a new course in health education and behavior among African Youth.asmara_sium

The foundation, which is based in both Silver Spring and D.C., targets the annual conference towards African youth aged 12 to 25 and youth serving community based organizations, health service providers, teachers, school administrators, and city council members.

I talked with AIRF’s Executive Director Asmara Sium about what we can expect and learn from the event:

Why does AIRF host this conference? 

The intended purpose of the conference is to provide for a forum where innovative and informative dialogue on major issues affecting African immigrant and refugee populations can be explored. When the organization was founded in 1999, very little existed by way of best practices via immigrant assistance programs. Gaps in immigrant assistance were especially pronounced for those coming from Africa, whose linguistic and cultural makeup was as varied as their countries of origin. The AIRF founder, Dr Wanjiru Kamau sought to develop culturally competent programs to address the various immigrant integration needs of incoming Africans.

The AIRF has hosted 10 youth leadership and education conferences. Some past conference themes include: 2004 African Refugees: Transitional Challenges in the United States; 2007 Keeping the Spirit: Elders as Models, Youth as Leaders; 2008Leadership: African Immigrant Youth Initiatives for the 21st Century; 2011African Youth Kaleidoscope: A Framework for Innovation; and 2012 Mobilizing the Immigrant Youth Voice in Education, Policy and Culture.

What is your hope for the event?

Generally, our hope is to educate, advocate and support for greater access to healthcare, positive health experiences and to provide a platform for strengthening programmatic responses. Overcoming barriers that limit access to prevention, care and services requires research and open and honest dialogue.

What are some of the highlights of the event?

Rarely are the youth given the opportunity to share their concerns or opinions about issues that affect them with elected officials, educators, school administrators, community leaders and the alike. The conference is but one opportunity to bring together various stakeholders; namely individuals who affect change. We also feature youth spotlights, celebrating their contributions to their communities.

Last year, Ms. Evodie Ngoy, a high school student, had the opportunity to feature her documentary on the integration experiences of immigrant youth. This was quite a treat for last year’s attendees.

How will this conference help local African Americans?

The AIRF has always looked for ways to deepen the relationship African immigrants and African-Americans. Past conferences addressed the theme of exploring and healing the evolving relationship between the two groups.

With respect to the theme of the conference, advocating for access to affordable healthcare is an issue that resonates with all Americans.

Certain aspects of health education and behaviors are similar for all groups, especially as it relates to “normal” adolescent world views and behavior. With that said, cultural nuances heavily influence the health care experiences of African immigrant youth.  This is part of the story we are looking to explore.

Find more information on the conference and AIRF here.

Valerie Bonk

About Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk is a multimedia reporter and community engagement specialist with Montgomery Community Media (MCM).


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