Minnesota has some of the worst inequity rates in the country. In particular, Black communities are poorer and less resourced in education and housing than those of their white peers. Research has shown that when community members help each other, they create stronger and healthier communities for everyone.
In Rochester two women have created a nonprofit called Pamoja, a Swahili word that means “united.” The aim of the organization is to strengthen the East African community, in particular East African girls and women. They have been helping the Rochester community for a couple of years, and now, with grants and official paperwork, they are here to stay.
Meet the mothers
Khadija Ali and Fatma Ahmed are the two Somali women behind Pamoja. Ali grew up in Canada and moved to Rochester over 20 years ago. She worked as a public health educator and helped mothers who had postpartum depression, and she’s currently raising four kids. Ahmed is from London but moved to Rochester 10 years ago and worked as an assistant teacher for Rochester Public Schools. She is now raising three children.
Ali and Ahmed grew up around Somali communities that helped them become the strong women they are today. Ali reminisces about the community centers in her childhood. She reflects, “In Toronto, it seemed like in every corner there was a community center. If we could have that here, it would be huge. Our goal is to have a community center for the Somali community.”
After moving to Rochester, the two women realized they needed to build and cultivate a platform to help East African women and girls. Many Somalis found themselves displaced due to the civil war in Somalia, but they have found comfort in the community in Minnesota.
In Rochester there are many after school programs geared toward East Africans, but most are aimed for boys. The women dreamed of creating a space for girls. Ahmed said, “With our culture, (sometimes) women are not a priority. We are saying now that women matter, too. Girls need to be heard. By doing that (allowing the girls to participate in sports) we are building their confidence.”
Pamoja is helping East African girls to have a childhood that allows them to be free and young and to potentially become leaders. They are being shown that they matter too.
Youth sports is not the only thing Pamoja sponsors. Because of their experiences as mothers, Ali and Ahmed understand the unique challenges that women from their community face. Pamoja supports mothers by helping them to understand the mental health challenges that often arise after the birth of a child.
birth of a child. Pamoja will also help the East African community with homework, summer programming and events year-round. Ali and Ahmed hope that in July they will have a physical center with resources for the East African community on education, housing and job opportunities.
For years, East Africans in Rochester have been helping one another in their free time, but now with Pamoja they have established help that will support the community for generations. To move to another country and be an outsider is an extremely isolating experience. Ali and Ahmed will not give up, and they remind us that Pamoja is here to stay, putting the unity back in community.