Immigrants and refugees face a host of cultural and linguistic challenges in their new countries. It's not any different here in the United States. Immigrants have to work extra hard to fit in - and there are never enough individuals or organizations to assist in this complex process.
The African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation was established to help with this process. It assists Africans who come to the United States by supporting their various needs - cultural, linguistic, employment, mental health, and their desire to fit in.
The Foundation achieves this mission through multicultural group and individual counseling, survival skills training, African cultural awareness education, cultural competence training for caregivers and the African population itself, referrals and consultation. Contributions from their diverse Board of Directors, donors, staff, the immigrants and refugees themselves, and collaboration with the surrounding community provide them with the shoulders on which they stand.
Their staff possess a combination of rich experience. The skills represented in their organization include psychology, multicultural counseling, communications, advocacy, law, financial education and training, and mentoring, to name a few. AIRF has also forged relationships with other local organizations that have similar missions, so that there can be a mutual sharing of resources whenever necessary.
The African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) recognized non-profit organization.
The mission of AIRF is founded and implemented on the following core values:
-Multicultural education, adjustment, and empowerment of African Immigrants and refugees, with special emphasis on -those in the national Capital region;
-Inclusiveness, diversity, and human dignity;
-Mutually respectful exchange of ideas and strategies in a multidisciplinary context;
-Continuous personal, social, and cultural growth;
-Development, advancement, and distribution of knowledge relevant to the target population;
-Outreach and advocacy on issues of concern African immigrants and refugees
THE HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE FOUNDATION (AIRF)
The African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation (AIRF or AIRFOUND) was born out of an influx of African refugees who may not have lived in urban Africa, let alone urban America. This influx is accelerated by economic and political wars which have produced unprecedented numbers of political and economic refugees. Being physically uprooted is traumatic and results in multiple suffering, isolation, loss, shock and a sense of hopelessness -often suffered over an extended period of time.
As a mental Health professional and an immigrant herself, Dr. Wanjiru Kamau founded The African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation (AIRF or AIRFOUND) in 2000 to become a resource for the Africans who often feel out of place in Western society.
AIRF, in conjunction with its volunteers and funding partners, empowers new immigrants with survival skills, mental health services, assimilation classes for the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), job evaluation, preparation and placement. AIRF also provides African Cultural Competency training to caregivers in order to enhance intercultural communication and effective interventions.
African Immigrants are the fastest growing immigrant population in America. There are over 1.6 million Africans in the United States between 2000 and 2010 US Census Bureau. According to the 2000 Census, the African-born population in the D.C. Metropolitan area saw a 150% increase in the past decade. Yet, local social service agencies lack the cultural knowledge and skills required to effectively address the immediate needs of this community. Whether they arrive on immigrant visas or as refugees, newly arrived Africans face several challenges.
Many are in dire need of adaptation and adjustment services with particular emphasis on coping and accessing available resources. For example, the family from Mali that tragically died in the Bronx on March 11, 2007 was unaware of the dangers of space heaters. On arrival to the US, acute needs include mental health and trauma counseling due to loss and family separation, new language and cultural skills, support with school and provision of culturally competent social service care, family reunification and immigration status adjustments assistance. For refugees, the process is often difficult, extending far beyond the first 90 days of government support, and often continuing for years after entry into the United States. The African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation (AIRF) was founded to address these critical issues of mental, identity, socio-cultural, and linguistic challenges.
Based on their experiences we also find adolescent refugees and older youths are particularly affected by the process and this impacts negatively on the intergenerational communication. Consequently, young people require guidance and support to overcome obstacles to mediation within the family, school system, and adjustment to American culture. For many children, formal education was interrupted during flight and resettlement and many lack language and academic skills. They are inappropriately assigned within the school setting by age. Frustrations with teachers and with schoolmates are often reported especially with African Americans with whom they are “categorized” but with whom they share little common culture.
Their target population includes populations from 45 African countries. Specifically, the AIRF targets the African youth as a gateway towards reaching the parents or guardians and in turn the larger immigrant community.