Wigan community group helping women feel at home in borough
The organisation works with people from marginalised communities.
Ekhaya Empowerment UK was set up in 2019 by Naomi Shika, who is known by her middle name Miki, and became a community interest company (CIC) last summer.
The organisation helps women, currently mainly from African backgrounds, to make friends, build relationships and integrate into the wider Wigan
That eventually grew into Ekhaya, which takes its name from the Zulu word meaning ‘home’, and Miki now has plans to further expand the group’s work across the borough.
Ekhaya has spent the last year and a bit of the Covid-19 pandemic keeping its service users engaged virtually with the help of technology and Miki is now looking ahead to taking forward its attempts to build bridges between Wiganers and residents from ethnic minority communities.
Miki, who runs the group with the help of two other women, said: “Ekhaya Empowerment started as a result of my struggle in terms of trying to make friends, build relationships and integrate within the community.
“It’s about empowerment among women by helping them to follow their dreams and providing education.
“Many of our women struggle with English and what tends to happen then is they form a group which only integrates with itself, not with the wider community.
“We want to build bridges between the black and minority ethnic (BAME) community and the wider community.
“People say there is a gap and they don’t feel at home here yet they live here, their kids are in school here and their family is here.
“Ekhaya is about thinking about things differently so they can also feel at home.”
Miki, who was born in Johannesburg in South Africa, says having English as her first language was one reason she felt confident about taking part in the community when she arrived in Wigan, getting involved at her church and in the parents’ organisation at the primary school her children attended.
However, when she began inviting women from the church for lunch she also had similar experiences to them around the immigration system and applying for residency in the UK.
She said: “It was easy for me to relate to them and to bring them back into the community. I’m pretty full-on with my community.
“I started to explore the Wigan culture more when my children went to school. Getting involved there allowed me to integrate. It reduces isolation and means you get to know everybody else.
“You realise there’s not that much difference between yourself and the community.
“People also don’t know much about African cultures and the only way they are going to know is if we become that link to open things up.”
Miki is now looking to broaden Ekhaya’s work, having recently got in touch with the team at Leigh Spinners Mill and fellow BAME organisation Everything Human Rights.
She is also searching for funding to be able to expand its services, which includes supporting women and signposting them to programmes or courses that will benefit them online or at local education institutions.
Ekhaya also runs a book club which helps children discover the joy of reading and improve their English but also ensures they are knowledgeable about their background and proud of their heritage so they are able to tackle racism and ignorance should they encounter it.
The not-for-profit group has organised Christmas meals and cook-outs and also delivered food parcels and arranged meals during the pandemic.
Covid-19 also saw some of its activities move online, with a programme of events including regular quiz nights on Zoom being devised.
Ekhaya has also set up a walking group in which its members get to meet other Wiganers and also recently held its first open networking event.
Miki says she is determined to do even more across the borough to break down barriers and dissolve divisions between residents.
She said: “We want to bring minority communities together with as many people as we can from the wider Wigan community.
“We want to start crossing cultures and celebrating our differences.”
For more information follow Ekhaya Empowerment UK on Twitter @EkhayaUK.
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