The African Health Forum provides health services to the African community and African organisations and helps to raise the profile of the needs of these communities back to key policy and decision makers.
Chickwaba Oduka, Trustee of the African Health Forum, talks to us about how her organsiation has benefited from VAC training on ‘Mental Health First Aid’ and a ‘Basic Understanding of Health’ by the Royal Society of Public Health.
Q. How would you describe the work of the Africa Health Forum?
It started in the early 90s, a group of African organisations coming together to try and support each other really. Particularly to do with HIV at the time. The forum consists of 13 orgs from different capacity stages. It’s open to voluntary organisations that provide services to the African community. It’s not restricted to African organisations – it is for anyone who provided services for the African communities. And we want to make it easy for those people to provide those services. We want to make sure the services are being used.
Our main aim is to respond to the needs of the African communities of Camden and Islington. And to raise the profile of those needs. Also to build sustained and meaningful partnership among African comms in Camden and Islington. So we sought a robust partnership that builds on its members and ensures a holistic and responsive services.
Q. When did you first hear about VAC?
From when we started actually. The previous chairs of the African Health forum worked with VAC from the beginning. Now, because all that funding has stopped we’ve re-connected with VAC to see if we can get some of the services from VAC. Like accessing training for various things, like fundraising, monitoring and evaluation, mental health training.
When VAC has seen some funding they think we would benefit from, they’ve given us that information. And they also look through our applications before we send them. So they do that bit more that ensures we have the best chance of getting the funding.
Working with VAC led us to getting funding from Camden Carers Services through which we hosted workshop to raise awareness about carers in the African community.
Q. What were you hoping to get out of using VAC’s services?
We have done training in Mental Health First Aid and a Basic Understanding of Health by the Royal Society of Public Health to gain more skills and experience in those topics. After the mental health training we were able to work better with people in our community – we were able to support them better. We were more understanding of the issues and where they could go for services in terms of mental health. Also VAC works with mental health bodies so it’s about connecting with that project.
Through the RSPH training we’ve started to volunteer with VAC to link us with GPs, which we are keen to do because a lot of African people have problems accessing GPs because they find it difficult.
Q. This is part of the new Health Advocacy project with NHS commissioning in Camden?
Yes, its early days, but just the possibility of connecting with GPs is fantastic for us. It’s going to help get people to access GPs instead of going to hospitals and A and E. It’s an opportunity to work closely with GPs and find out what the challenges are in our community. So we’ll liaise with GPs and this project through VAC can be a bridge between GPs and our community.
Q. What has the training and services you’ve received from VAC meant to the work your organisation does?
Oh it’s been huge. It’s meant a lot because it’s raised huge awareness on health. When we did the health awareness course we looked at diets and exercise. We looked at a whole range of issues that can help a person live well, live longer and live a quality life as well. So we got that information in training and now we’re able to tell our clients about that. So were hoping to get funding that will let us do workshops to do with exercise, nutrition, to have counselling services so that people can live well and have a quality life.
And it’s the same thing for mental health. It’s also raised awareness for us. It’s the same with HIV. Mental Health and HIV and all long term conditions have a huge impact on the lives of the individuals affected. Living with a long term condition is a difficult thing as it is. What’s their mental capacity, what’s their mental health if they’re living with long term illnesses? How does that impact on them self-managing they’re long term condition. So when I say self-management I’m talking about taking their medicine, making sure they’re attending their appointments they need to attend and that they are aware of the services available. So making a plan for themselves and accessing the things that can make their life better.
The VAC training has given me tools to do this kind of work for my community. Three of us from the board of the Africa Mental Health attended the VAC training in mental health and the RSPH basic health training and the rest of the board now wants to do it because we fed back to them and they can see how increased our knowledge is on the topics. So they want to come and do the training as well.
Q. You’ve also assisted running one of the VAC training courses as well. How did that come about?
After the mental health training, VAC asked if I would co-train with her on the Royal Society of Public Health’s Understanding Health course. I found that really useful in honing my training skills and learn more really. About presenting skills and gaining more confidence. That was a really good experience for me I think.
Q. Did you find any changes in you or your orgs work as a result of this training?
I think as an individual it was being more confident at presenting skills, planning training. And with the Forum my impact at gaining those skills, I’ve shared with them, my colleagues. It’s like a ripple effect. I’ve come and learned and I’ve given it to my board and the rest of us are now giving it to the community. The thing that is stopping us from doing more of what we want to is lack of funding. From what I have learnt at VAC it would be really useful to plan our own training, hold workshops and train people in the community. But the funding restrictions are limiting the amount of work we can do. The impact can be felt much quicker if you organised programmes in place rather than what we do now which is working on a voluntary basis and doing only as much as we can.