Originally from Zambia, Chikwaba Oduka has been working in Camden supporting Black and African communities for over 20 years. She is one of the founders of Umoja (formerly the African Health Forum) and has been second chair of the organisation for over ten years.
Created in 2004, Umoja is a partnership of various African organisations concerned about health, housing and social welfare challenges experienced by Black and African communities living in London.
Their mission has been to improve lives, particularly those affected by long term conditions including HIV and diabetes.
Providing home-cooked meals
One of the people receiving support was a man in his 70s who lives in a high-rise flat with very reduced mobility. “We used to call him regularly when he was discharged from hospital to find out how he’s doing. One particular time when we called during the pandemic, he told us he was very hungry and he hadn’t eaten in three days.
“That’s when we started cooking food, and packing it in small containers, which he could store in a freezer whenever he needs it. He was so grateful and the nutritious meals kept him out of the hospital for longer,” she adds.
Chikwaba’s social action story
Chikwaba has a long history involving social action. “I started my passion of supporting my community when the HIV and AIDS pandemic was at its worst, our friends and family members were dying.
“So a group of us took it upon ourselves to have conversations with health professionals on what we can do to support our communities because Sub-Saharan Africa was highlighted as a region with a high prevalence of HIV. We concluded that people needed awareness and facts on HIV and AIDS. There were too many myths. People needed to find the appropriate services to go to because they want a safe, confidential place.
“That’s when we started organising workshops and one-to-one interviews, being involved in campaigns to raise awareness about HIV and how people can protect themselves. This worked so well because people then started accessing treatments and were getting better, some went back to work, some started families of which they had no hope of pursuing without our interventions. That was fulfilling. We could see people almost getting up from the dead.”
Umoja continue their work to support people during the pandemic
Umoja’s work has expanded even since the beginning of the pandemic; they now play a crucial and really important role in overcoming vaccine hesitancy and working with the over-50s to reduce isolation by organising various outdoor activities.
They have also increased befriending services with their mental health work to support and make referrals to mental health services for further appropriate support.
Umoija have increased mental health support because, due to the pandemic, more people are feeling anxious, depressed, stressed and fearful of what the future holds for them.
Some people have also lost their jobs and are experiencing poverty so they are helping more and more people to sign up to food banks.