My name is Juliet Najjumba and I am the Founder and Director of African Cultural Services, Inc. (ACS). While I am originally from Uganda, I graduated in Germany and have been working in the US for the past several years. When I am not working for ACS, I am a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) working 40 hours a week during the night shift.
After emigrating from Germany, where I ran similar community programming, I founded African Cultural Services, Inc. (ACS) in 2011. ACS is a nonprofit organization in Waltham, MA. We seek to highlight the importance of intercultural respect and celebration among communities of African and non-African descent alike. This takes the form of a diverse Cultural Arts Education Program-–cultural edutainment—that works with children and families from underserved communities (e.g., low income, African immigrant communities) in the Waltham area.
The city of Waltham, MA is known for its significant immigrant population, with over a quarter of its residents being foreign-born. A notable portion of those individuals are African, with a majority of those being Ugandan. As of 2009, at least 1,500 Waltham residents were Ugandan immigrants. Indeed, so significant is the population that the Uganda North American Association was Waltham-based until recently.
Although not universal, many of these individuals are involved, at least initially, in the care industry and are responsible for the financial well-being of their family’s state-side and those back in Uganda/Africa. As a result, the community is often reliant on relatives for childcare, and afterschool programming is not typically a financial option. This means many of these students are not exposed to the same educational, social, and health opportunities outside of school as their peers.
In order to address these community needs in Waltham; the ACS has three primary components:
- a weekly afterschool program;
- monthly community cultural events;
- professional development workshops & in-school visits.
In addition to the regular programming within the African immigrant and low-income communities, ACS also develops outreach programming for particularly vulnerable youth who would otherwise not have access to out-of-school support. In the 2017 academic year, the “Let Them Shine” Program provided over 1700 students access to activities that included African dance, Africa in the classroom, the performing arts, music and art making, academic support, healthy snacks, gymnastics, and field trips. Students are offered opportunities to explore, interact with, and broaden their knowledge about their communities and themselves. We strive to ensure our programming includes a focus on physical health (physical activity through dance and community games) and mental health (cultural awareness and celebration helps foster self-confidence and prevent bullying).
At present, ACS programming is funded in large part by myself (80% me; 18% grants; 12% subsidized programming fees for those who can afford to pay). We have set fees in order to meet the costs of running the program, and while parents are eager to have their children participate, many still are unable to pay. As we develop—we are currently at full capacity—we need a larger, more permanent space and more consistent and sustainable sources of funding to ensure access for students in need.
In order to do so, I am eager to hear your suggestions and advice on how best to develop our work and fundraising strategies, so we can sustain our programs for the years to come. Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome!