2012 African Studies Workshop


Newly arrived African immigrants to the United States face a host of hurdles. Principal among them: language difficulties and limited support systems. Kenyan-born educator Wanjiru Kamau understood and took action.

Wanjiru Kamau knows the difficulties immigrants from Africa face on arrival in the United States. She left her native Kenya three decades ago for graduate studies, and she eventually got a master’s degree and PhD at Penn State University and worked for years at the university.

After retiring from teaching at several colleges in the United States, Dr. Kamau used $10,000 in savings to establish the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation. As the organization's Executive Director, she leads AIRF to facilitate the effective transition of the African immigrants to the American society and support their productive sustainable integration into their new homeland. Serving Maryland and the District of Columbia, AIRF has provided a variety of services to over 15,000 youth, their families, and professionals since inception. Kamau's research and publications on mental health, African women's health issues, conflict resolution and African cultural help service providers and educators increase their understanding of the African immigrant community. Her recent contributions include two videos, one on Adolescent Rites of passage and a "Child of Two Worlds", a tool for African Cultural Competency Training.

“I saw a problem and knew I was growing old very quickly — I didn’t have time to wait,” she said. “I just had to get out and do what needed to be done.”

Kamau’s extensive education and long career at the university prepared her for pursuing her passions in retirement. Before coming to the United States in 1977, Kamau was a lecturer in sociology and an assistant dean of students at the University of Nairobi. She got a master’s degree and a doctorate in psychological counseling at Penn State. As part of her studies, she did extensive research on multicultural education.

While working on her PhD, Kamau was hired to help Penn State plan and implement its diversity policies. She was chagrined to realize the depth of cultural inequities within the university system. She realized that many of the cultural insensitivities stemmed from a lack of knowledge about Africa.

So she set about teaching faculty, staff and students using African proverbs and lullabies as cultural illustrations. She created training workshops and seminars on cultural differences for deans and school administrators.

“There is a lot of ignorance as far as Africa is concerned,” she said. “It hurt me so badly as an educator.”

Recognizing that African cultural awareness was needed on a national level, Kamau retired from academia and moved to the District, as she said, “to be near the seat of power.” At 59, she set up the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation in 2000.


Biography of Dr. Kamau

6th Annual African Studies Workshop

When: Saturday, October 27, 2012

Time: 1:30pm

Where: St. Paul's Church, 445 Elmwood Avenue Providence, RI.

St. Paul's Church is located on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Carter Street.  Please use side entrance on Carter Street to enter.  If you are driving, there is a parking lot across the street from the Carter Street entrance on the corner of Carter and Bucklin.

Please click here for directions.

The event is free.