For Amina Sheik Mohamed, Women’s Health is First
Women’s History Month: 2013 Honoree
Friday, March 1, 2013
San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood is home to one of the largest Somali populations in the nation. Many arrived here as refugees in the early 1990s, during a time of civil war strife in Somalia. One of those who settled here at that time is Amina Sheik Mohamed. Today she is manager of the African American Campaign for the Network for a Healthy California operated locally from the University of California, San Diego. She is also a 2013 Women’s History Month Local Hero honoree.
Mohamed is elated by the recognition. “I’m really honored. Last February, I received an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Diversity Award from UCSD, but winning this award for Women’s History Month, means so much to me, because I am always thinking about women globally and how I can help them, and I just connect with that.”
Mohamed always knew she wanted to pursue a career in public health. “In one of my early undergraduate classes at SDSU, “ she recalls, “The professor asked if anyone knows where they want to be in five years. I raised my hand and said I want to study public health and work for the United Nations, and help the community back home in Africa. The professor was surprised on how decided I was on my goals. I was the only one in class who already had a plan.”
She hasn’t gone to work for the UN yet, but that’s because Mohamed saw that she could realize her goals right here, in San Diego. In her position with the Network for a Healthy California, Mohamed is charged with promoting a healthy lifestyle for African American women, and the part of her job she loves most of all is helping women who have come here from the same region of the world as she.
“Helping East African women is important to me,” says Mohamed. “Because of life in Africa, and seeing people die from diseases that can be prevented, I knew I wanted to educate women about health. I felt I could do something here and give back to my community at the same time.”
One of the projects she and her sister, Sahra Abdi, have helped make happen involves working with the Copley YMCA to offer special pool hours for women only, so that the women can swim without having men present. For most of the women, it’s their first time being in the water and experiencing the sensation of buoyancy. They’re also getting swim lessons, and Mohamed says that once they learn the basics, the Copley YMCA will be offering them aerobic classes, too.
“It’s been very emotional for them to be able to do this,” notes Mohamed. “Imagine not letting your kids in the water because you don’t know how to swim. With mothers learning along with their daughters, together they are learning water safety.”
Mohamed’s other efforts have led to an increase in access to healthy foods, as she has helped a group called City Heights Hope develop a cooking class program for mothers and daughters. Then, last summer, she co-launched My Hair and Health Matter, as a way to show African and African American women that it’s possible to workout, work up a sweat, and still maintain the style and condition of their hair.
Recently, Mohamed has been noting a change in the women she has been helping. “Do any ever call me after hours? A long time ago, yes, all the time. But now, most are self-reliant. They’re doing translation advocacy, and being interviewed for KPBS Speak City Heights stories. They are becoming more stable here in San Diego, and they want to help. It’s just beginning. These women are very motivated to make a difference.”
This month, Mohamed is heading to the United Nations, after all. But not for a job. She has been chosen to participate as a delegate in a Conference on the Status of Women to be held at UN headquarters, and Mohamed couldn’t be more pleased. This annual meeting, led by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, evaluates the progress on gender equality, identifies challenges, sets global standards and formulates policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.
Mohamed, who is married and has two young children, finds that helping women lead healthy lifestyles is a full-time, round the clock job. Still, she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“I feel like its part of me,” she explains. “It’s empowering. I work all the time to help the community, but it’s not something I’m going to complain about. I don’t feel like it’s even work. I’m not going to ever turn off my phone and say I’m not at work. I’m not going to say my volunteer days are only on Saturdays. I will continue as long as there’s a need. Because I feel as though if something needs to be taken care of, I’ll do it, and I’ll do it with passion.”