The Huruma project: supporting mental health within black African communities

A lack of cultural awareness and labelling black individuals through stereotypes is detrimental to their health.

Jonathan Ssentam, Passion4Fusion

We’re proud to fund projects across Scotland that help change the lives of those affected by ill mental health. Passion4Fusion received £107,000 of National Lottery funding to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of black Africans in their community and is a great example of this in action.

The Edinburgh based charity is working to address the disproportionate impact of health inequalities by focussing on both physical and mental health.

In this blog, we talk with volunteer, Anna Fischer and manager, Jonathan Ssentamu, to find out how the Huruma – Health for Black Africans project is making a difference to people’s lives.

Jonathan and Anna smile at the camera.
Jonathan Ssentamu and Anna Fischer

Making a life changing impact

Anna Fischer has been a volunteer for Passion4Fusion since October of last year, doing peer support and mentoring work and has witnessed first-hand the life-changing impact of the Huruma Project and why it’s needed in Edinburgh and West Lothian.  

Anna told us: “The Huruma project directly addresses the impact of health inequalities affecting black African communities living in our area.”

“We realised that many Africans face barriers when accessing mainstream services, so we offer a holistic and culturally appropriate health, wellbeing and support service for those who have long-term health conditions. 

“Our programme consists of peer support events, one-to-one counselling, and exercise sessions to help people improve their physical and mental health, reduce social isolation and build confidence.”

The barriers black Africans face

Jonathan Ssentamu, who first joined Passion4Fusion as a volunteer in 2014 and has since become manager of the health and wellbeing project, tells us how the Huruma Project has helped to address the barriers black Africans face in accessing mental health support. 

Jonathan says: “Our clients are hesitant to visit the doctors because of fear of judgement or discrimination. They speak about how the services do not always understand their health needs and that they are not taken seriously when they try to access mental health support. 

“Working on the Huruma Project, we have found that mental health illness for black Africans is formed through people’s experiences, cultural traditions and the mislabeling of black individuals being seen as ‘strong’ or ‘used to struggling’; and attributing signs of mental health difficulties to a sign of weakness which should be kept hidden from others.  

“The gap of cultural understanding between health care services and black individuals is a challenge that we have faced. This lack of understanding can create inconsistency in treatment and misdiagnosis and a lack of cultural awareness and labelling black individuals through stereotypes is detrimental to their health.

“The Huruma project focuses on activities that can be implemented into daily life, and that are sustainable. Within our day-to-day work, we provide meaningful health and wellbeing activities like weekly gym sessions, small walking groups, swimming, support groups, and counselling. “

Feedback from those who have been supported

Jonathan continues: “Having someone to speak to who understands and holds value in cultural sensitivity has an immense effect on wellbeing. Being truly heard and feeling understood can make all the difference on a bad day for our clients.  

“One of our clients said:  

I keep myself to myself because I have nobody to talk to, I feel isolated and lonely most of the time. Put it this way, if I was to die in this country, nobody would miss me, that’s how I feel, talking to someone who I can relate to makes me feel like home, and not alone’. ” 

Anna adds: “Another of our clients who faces mental health challenges was initially hesitant to engage with us, and very shy. Now we go on runs and walks and have tea and biscuits. Her confidence has grown immensely, and her weekly visits never seem long enough.  

She told us: “the work you do for me is so powerful, you will never know.  

“And another woman we have been working with has started to volunteer with us, and her engagement with Passion4Fusion has helped her feel less lonely and isolated.

“We would like to thank The National Lottery Community Fund and National Lottery players for making this all possible. It means we can continue to provide the very necessary support to our vulnerable target population, African people living with long term health conditions.”

For more information about the Huruma Health project visit Passion4Fusion’s website.

Looking for funding?

Passion4Fusion received £107, 000 from our Improving Lives fund which supports projects that help people who are facing a range of challenging circumstances.

This fund is closing to applications on 30th September 2022 but groups still have time to apply. If you would like to apply for funding from this programme, please contact our team on advicescotland@tnlcommunityfund.org.uk or 0300 123 7110.

We’ll have an informal chat with you about the idea you need funding for and can send you out an application form.

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