The National Congress of Black Women Foundation: A Presence Honouring Black Women and Youth in BC

The population of people originally hailing from African or Caribbean descent is small in city of Vancouver directly.  Yet one just has to travel just east of the Vancouver Burnaby boarder and the slight increase of Black people is visibly noticeable.  The National Congress of Black Women Foundation (NCBWF) is also found in Burnaby.  The Congress of Black Women of Canada is the original body from which several chapters can be found all across Canada.  However the NCBWF, founded in 1986, here in Burnaby differs in that in 1992 they registered with the government as a charitable organization with a focus on community education and using their funds for charitable purposes.

As described in their brochures and on their website the NCBWF’s mission is: “to promote and facilitate activities and model programs which foster advancement, recognition, health and education of black women and their families through funding and research. .. to actively participate in the development of open dialogue with our communities to ensure that the services are treated in a confidential and non-judgemental manner”

NCBWF has fulfilled this mission through several of the programs they have developed and delivered over the years.  One such program was the Summer Leadership program for black youth at risk of dropping out of school. The youth who participated in this program expressed their dwindling interest in school often due to how they were be treated by teachers and other students.  Black youth have long struggled against the stereotype that they will not finish high school unless they can score some type of athletic scholarship.  Stereotypes are hard to escape when those in power consistently paint black youth into corners that force the expected outcome.  One of the important principles the drive the NCBWF is the crucial role that education plays in the successful life of young black people.  This program that ran for four years and had approximately 30 youth participated. This program experienced an 83% success rate wherein the youth who participated, went on to complete post secondary schooling and continue into rewarding professions. Programs that are capable of engaging youth, who are marginalized within mainstream systems such as the public educations system, are essential.  The NCBWF was able to provide these youth with a hands-on, intensive experience of what post-secondary life could offer, by having the kids stay on campuses, visit different schools and gain an understanding of the various career paths that are open to them.  What’s more they were given concrete support and methods to attain their new goals, so instead of feeling like they do not belong in school, they learned that education is a basic right which they are owed.   The NCBWF continues to fund academic scholarships for African-Caribbean- Canadian youth and women living with or without HIV/AIDS to pursue their education.

For the past while, the crux of the services and support provided by the NCBWF has been to black women living HIV/AIDS.  Through developing an effective system of dedicated volunteers, women suffering from this illness can receive in-home or in-hospice support through food delivery, chore service and simply providing emotional support for people who have often been cut off from their family due to the stigma that remains around this illness. Sometimes this isolation is self imposed by the woman suffering to spare their family the pain, or out of feelings of shame.  Some of the women who have used this service are newcomer refugees from African countries. Long time residents have also been benefitting from NCBWF efforts to increase their capacity participate in their lives and to ease the emotional strain of living with HIV/AIDS.  NCBWF mandate includes a dedication to “reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS infection and enhancing the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS. In Lower Mainland we adopt effective and appropriate strategies that promote better health preservation and prevention through education.

The idea of prevention education is what often comes at the conclusion of any discussion about  how to take on problem as large complex as HIV and AIDS.   Yet, when it comes to cuts from the government, it is the prevention programs that often are the first to go in favour of putting money into the direct medical treatments for people who are already suffering from the illness.  Though keeping treatments up to date and available for those who are ill is crucial; investing in the other end of the problem is just as valuable in order to reduce the number of cases so that the costs of treatment will eventually be reduced.

NCBWF has been fortunate enough to have a dynamic executive director at its head, Nalda Callender, who has worked tirelessly over the past 24 years to build and foster partnerships with other community agencies with similar mandates.  NCBWF has worked with AIDS Vancouver to provide education and enhanced services for black women living with HIV/AIDS.  Continuing the programs and services that they have offered up to date in the face of funding cuts will be a struggle but, this challenge has not dampened the drive and motivation of the NCBWF to continue its fundraising endeavours, and applying for grants so that the women and children who most benefit from their efforts can continue to do so.

The tagline on the brochure for the National Congress of Black Women Foundation is “Our Presence Makes a Difference.”  This statement is profound in the simplicity of its truth.  A presence and a voice for black women and youth within the mainstream community are essential. NCBWF not only provides this presence, but also offers insightful and constructive strategies to ensure that access to programs and services, as well as being treated with dignity and respect becomes a standard for women and children.

The NCBWF also works to enhance the cultural presence in Southern BC by organizing and sponsoring numerous events.   For 2010’s Black History Month the NCBWF put a call out recruiting Black artists in the area and four local artist will be featured during the month of February at the Vancouver Museum,: Carlyle Mathew, sculptures, David George,  visual expressions and Garret Campbell and Tess I. Kingston, graphic art and portraits.  This Art exhibit will be further enhanced by an interactive workshop called Connecting Threads where participants will be encouraged to re-create living events around them into visual narrative using collage techniques.  Later on in the month Dr. Althea Prince, author of the Politics of Black Women’s Hair, will be speaking at the Inlet Theatre in Port Moody, BC.  And to round out the month a Caribbean and African Food Festival will be taking place at the Bonsor Community Centre in Burnaby.   The NCBWF has worked alongside the British Columbia Organization of Caribbean Cultural Association and others to bring these amazing events to the Vancouver area.

The National Congress of Black Women Foundation is proof that with a few dedicated people, a presence can be created and cultivated through partnerships, volunteers, sponsorships and maintaining a consistent dedication to the ever valuable principles of education, prevention and the active engagement of black women and children in the community.  To learn more, donate or volunteer, visit their website at http://www.nationalcongressofblackwomenfoundation.org/index.html .

Dorla Tune

Dorla Tune is a consultant and writer at D.Scribe Writing and Consulting

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