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Native Somalian champions for California’s health

The San Diego Union-Tribune
Friday, August 16, 2013

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In her native Somalia, Amina Sheik Mohamed witnessed how the lack of basic necessities changes priorities that can sustain healthy living.

She has no shortage of examples: If someone is starving, going to the doctor is not a priority. If there are no sidewalks to walk, exercise may not be viable.

That experience inspired her to help people live more healthy lives globally and in her City Heights neighborhood.

"Being born in Africa has so much influenced my life," Mohamed said. "I have seen people dying from preventive diseases because going to the doctor was not an option for them or going to university and getting higher education was not available to them."

Today, she is regional manager of the African American Campaign of the Network for a Healthy California in San Diego and Imperial counties, a statewide movement dedicated to improving the health of low-income Californians through healthy diets and daily exercise.

The campaign educates low-income African-American communities at festivals, stores, housing communities and by working in partnership with the media and other public and private organizations.

According to the campaign's literature, the program has increased fruit and vegetable consumption among African-Americans.

Currently, her program focuses on reducing the amount of chronic nutrition-related maladies like obesity and diabetes.

As a leader in health issues, Mohamed believes in training women to be active advocates for change in their communities.

"I think women are very powerful, and they contribute to our community in a large scale," she said.

While volunteering with the United Women of East Africa, she was part of a project that fostered cultural awareness. For example, many San Diegans do not know Muslim women may not bare their bodies to men, so they may not swim with them.

"We were able to advocate for a women-only swimming program in Copley YMCA. These are intergenerational classes, so both youth and adults are learning and being physically active," she said.

Mohamed is a mentor for Champion Moms, a Network for a Healthy California concept that encourages mothers to make changes that will improve their health and that of their families.

The program addresses nutritional and physical activity concerns in communities.

"For instance, if you give a healthy message to one mom, she can pass it on to her children, and they can pass it on to their school and to the overall community," Mohamed said.

The power and potential of women and mothers to be change agents is one of Mohamed's core messages.

"I grew up in a family who has so much respect for everyone, so my work and how I live now shows how upbringing can affect someone's future perspective," she said.


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