This year's new monthly artists area at the Whistle Stop Farmers Market has had a variety of vendors so far, and some of them have a bigger story behind all the creative jewelry and pottery.
Norcross resident and Kenya native Doris Mukangu set up a booth at last week's market to sell African jewelry and household items to raise funds for her nonprofit, the African Women Health Education and Empower Center.
Established in 2006, AWHEEC is an organization in Clarkston that assists in directing African refugees and immigrants to health services and education. Its objective is to empower them in the U.S. as they "socially, economically and psychologically adjust to their new environment," according to an AWHEEC pamphlet.
As a 501(c)3, the organization relies heavily on its volunteers,with many who are students at Morehouse and Spelman colleges. One of the volunteers, Naima Abdullahi, who also lives in Norcross and is from Kenya, helped Mukangu at the Whistle Stop booth as one of her duties at AWHEEC.
"With both of us being immigrants, we come from there, and we live here, so it sort of ties together our lives and our cultures on both sides," said Abdullahi, who also has a full-time job in a similar industry.
With an outpost in Kenya, the nonprofit has many volunteers who travel to various parts of Africa to assist with needs there, too. Abdullahi recently traveled to Mali to connect with women and inform them about the organization's mission, and she brought back different items to sell to benefit AWHEEC, which were sold at the market's booth. Abdullahi also had her own jewelry for sale that she made out of recycled materials.
The inspiration for AWHEEC came to Mukangu in 2005 when she volunteered at the DeKalb County Board of Health. As a Swahili translator, she came across many African refugees.
"I noticed a gap in communication between the refugees and the providers of services," said Mukango, who's also studying for her graduate degree in public health at Emory University. "I decided to form the organization to build that bridge between them."
Since the organization established, AWHEEC has helped thousands of refugees through many grassroots efforts. AWHEEC volunteers put on dinners and concerts in order to raise money, they help direct women to getting free mammograms during National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and its volunteers assist with other health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
AWHEEC goes much deeper than just physical health, though. One of the nonprofit's major projects is its Healthy Marriages program, where they work with couples on counseling and conflict resolution and domestic violence.
"Gender roles change considerably," said Abdurlahi. "[It helps] to have a counselor and a central support system that helps everybody deal with the changes."
Volunteers also assist couples and individuals to navigate the health system in the U.S. by being more willing to acquire services, something many aren't used to in the African culture.
"A lot of these women come from places where there's not a lot of help, so they don't know how to come out and say, 'I need help,' said Abdurlahi. "It's just not a part of their behavior, so we teach them to be able to voice their needs."
As for future artists markets at Whistle Stop, Mukangu hopes to be able to set up booths at those, too.
"That would be great, to get the support from the community," she said. "We would love to be here."
Mukangu added that she, along with Norcross PR manager Tixie Fowler and Nest founder Lori Sturgess, are planning a "day of Africa" event for the Gateway International Food and Music Festival in September.
To donate and learn more about the African Women Health Education and Empowerment Center, go to awheec.org.