At an anti-poverty conference in Bloomington today, a breast cancer awareness program will share its successful education strategies.
In her native Somalia, Adar Kahin was a singer and actress. Today, she uses that fame to help educate Somali women in the Twin Cities about breast cancer.
"Some women say that breast cancer is not a Somali disease; it is an American disease," Kahin said of the women she has counseled. "I tell them that a disease is a disease."
For the past 14 months, Kahin, 56, has been inside the homes of hundreds of Somali women, mostly in the Cedar-Riverside area, to tell them about risk factors, prevention and early detection as part of the Minnesota International Health Volunteers [MIHV] Somali Women's Breast Cancer Project.
Getting past stigmas is often a challenge and requires time, especially when religious beliefs create conflict. "Some women are afraid to talk about cancer because they say that it will tempt Allah, and that will bring the cancer," said Sara Rohde, a program coordinator with MIHV.
The breast cancer project has helped more than 700 Somali women. The project, part of the larger Center for Somali Health, is a program that works, according to the philanthropic Northwest Area Foundation.
Today, MIHV will share its strategy for success with 450 other anti-poverty activists as part of the Grassroots & Groundworks anti-poverty conference in Bloomington. The conference is an opportunity for anti-poverty activists to share such strategies.
Kahin, who came to Minnesota 13 years ago, said she usually initiates contact with Somali women by helping with basic things, such as translating bills and insurance paperwork. As trust builds, she broaches the subject of breast cancer and waits for the women to become comfortable enough to talk about it.
The nonprofit MIHV has taken a community-oriented approach, hiring and training health advocates from the communities that they serve and tailoring programs to those communities. The result is a self-sufficient, low-cost model that stresses informal counseling, support and advocacy.
Fewer than 10 percent of participants in the breast cancer project initially knew the risk factors and screening methods, officials said. Six months later, 79 percent had obtained mammograms.
Rodrigo Zamith • 612-673-4895