How Umoja helps the Black and African communities in Camden

How Umoja helps the Black and African communities in Camden

How Umoja helps the Black and African communities in Camden 1920 1282 Karishma Puri

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.

Stepping in to provide support

When the pandemic hit London, the need for food support became apparent. Umoja was well placed in their communities to step in and help. Their longstanding ties to individuals meant they understood exactly what people needed, rather than creating a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

“Our role was to provide support where it was needed. We consult and engage with our participants, so that they feel ownership of their activity, and they let us know exactly what they want us to do for them. Really, our aim is to see people improve their lives and become as independent as they can be,” said Chikwaba.

A volunteer from Umoja was paired with the nearest neighbour seeking support, ranging from shopping to cooking a variety of nutritious African meals. “If a person is ill, what they want to eat is what they’re used to. African food, cultural food is what they want,” Chikwaba says.

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.

“A group of us took it upon ourselves to have conversations with health professionals about what we can do to support our communities”

Chikwaba Oduka

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.

Photo credits: Beth Macdonald, Etty Fidele, Gabriel Ghnassia.

Get involved with Umoja

Visit Umoja’s website to learn about their partnerships and projects, or contact Chikwaba at

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