The refugee experience of settling into American life is often fraught with obstacles, but Amani Women Center (AWC) in Clarkston, Georgia and its sister venture Johari Africa are empowering new residents to survive and thrive. Founder and President Doris Mukangu notes, “Refugees are so excited to be here in America and they enrich our communities through cultural diversity. They are ready to work and contribute to our economy. Many receive social services for only three months, after which, they are on their own.”
Mukangu and her team witness firsthand the range of emotions new refugees experience. Communicating to individuals in their own language is an initial step to gaining their trust.
With a mission to “Empower and educate refugee women through culturally tailored programs that contribute to their economic security and overall wellbeing,” Amani Women Center is “A one-stop safe haven for refugee women of all cultures who are seeking a space for spiritual, mental, and physical healing.”
Using hands-on programs such as the Amani Sewing Academy, refugee women are taught vital job skills to become productive American citizens. “We focus on life skills and wellbeing, workforce development and job placement, financial literacy and domestic violence awareness and prevention,” Mukangu explains. Johari Africa is a social enterprise of AWC. “Johari started because of Amani’s public health education initiatives in the refugee community. We realized that financial empowerment is integral in healthcare choices and accessibility,” Mukangu explains. “We asked ourselves, how does one make healthy choices if not financially capable?”
“Financial issues are a major trigger for domestic violence in the African refugee community,” she says. “Empowering a woman financially gives a woman a voice in her home as well as gives her the confidence to participate in making decisions for herself and for her family. Domestic violence victims who are financially empowered are able to make decisions from a position of power versus from a position of vulnerability.”
This essential education has resulted in a vibrant e-commerce and retail operation. “Johari Africa features women-made products that highlight the beauty of cultural diversity,” Mukangu says. Products include purple teas, vibrant backpacks, coconut products, jewelry, and batik clothing. “We have just initiated a Made in Clarkston cross-body bag in addition to clothing, jewelry and beauty supplies.”
Earning Trust and Educating Health-Aware Citizens
For clarification, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 defines “a refugee as any person who is outside his or her country of residence or nationality, or without nationality, and is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
To disseminate critical real-time news, “Amani Women Center has become a trusted voice to provide credible and digestible information from the Georgia Department of Health (DPH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to a community that has linguistic and literacy challenges,” Mukangu shares. The center translates all important public health information into eight languages: Amharic, Swahili, Arabic, French, Somali, Burmese, Nepali, and Kinyarwanda.
As our nation now battles the COVID-19 pandemic, Amani Women Center and its Sewing Academy participants have also shifted operations to make personal protective masks using donated supplies. “We are helping to protect our frontline workers and neighbors,” Mukangu says. “We’ve established a program for individuals and corporations to purchase masks for themselves or make a donation to help our sewers satisfy critical needs.”