Changemaker Voices: Truphena Choti of AfriThrive

Eat the Change

Founded in 2019 by Truphena Choti, AfriThrive is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating economic opportunities for underserved African immigrant communities through building a sustainable and culturally appropriate local food system in the Greater Washington, DC area. The organization runs a one-acre farm and supports community gardens in Montgomery County. Their community gardening program brings together a network of immigrant families to cultivate culturally appropriate varieties of African indigenous vegetables on their farm. Through significant community support, it has continued to expand to meet the increased needs of the community. Funding from Eat the Change Impact will support AfriThrive’s operations and increase their capacity to grow and distribute more culturally appropriate, healthy produce.  

 

What is your role at AfriThrive?

 

President and CEO.

 

How would you describe your community? What makes it unique?

 

AfriThrive serves low-income African immigrant families residing in the Greater Washington D.C. area with access to culturally appropriate healthy foods and skills development. The African immigrant community is a diverse population with roots in the African continent, many identifying with countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe etc. This diversity makes African immigrants a community within a larger community. For instance, each nationality has smaller groups, mostly based on region or native language. Generally, African immigrants have strong ties to their families/communities, and they participate in life rituals such as weddings and burial ceremonies. Whenever calamities such as death strike either here or in their country of origin, they all come together to support, they fundraise to meet the costs. They are like each other’s life insurance. 

 

We also have children of immigrant parents i.e., the second and third generation, a population that is fast growing in the DMV, that do not necessarily have the same level of family ties as their parents. African immigrants uphold their culture and food. Food is culture. You learn a lot about African communal culture from their foods. Again, there is diversity within the African cuisine that is unique from one region to another. For instance, East Africans consume greens like Collards (Sukumawiki), Corn (Ugali) and meat (Nyamachoma) while West Africans are fond of dry fish, peanut sauce, hot pepper etc., and families share ideas/leads on where to locate such foods. There are cases when these vegetables are not available in the local food stores and families must rely on their relatives sending them dried ones from Africa. However, dry vegetables imported from Africa are not nutritious. Boiling and drying makes them lose the essential nutrients.  Again, the Covid-19 pandemic period demonstrated that the value chain is not sustainable. We need to develop our farms locally. 

 

What inspired you to get involved with AfriThrive? 

 

The founding of AfriThrive was informed by our lived experience as young immigrant parents in the US. We arrived in the US in 2000 through the Fulbright Scholar Exchange program and our three children attended school. We enrolled our two sons in a local high school in Montgomery County and subsequently our personal intervention on an academic tracking issue became a big eye opener into the world of immigrant families in this country. Although our children spoke only English, the fact that their parents come from another country, the school presumed their English proficiency was not adequate and hence enrolled in an English as Second Language (ESOL) class. It took us almost a month and half to realize something was off with our children’s schoolwork. They were basically bored in class because of being placed in the wrong classes and not being academically challenging. As educationists, we started advocating with African immigrant parents to be more engaged in their children’s education. During our encounter with these families, we came to realize how many of them faced systemic challenges which could effectively be mitigated through empowerment and enlightenment, hence we started AfriThrive in 2019.  

 

We also had challenges finding culturally appropriate foods prompting us to start a garden and grow our vegetables. There was great demand for our vegetables, so we continued to farm and share with families in need and now gardening has become a signature program for AfriThrive. I am very passionate about the work we do at AfriThrive and, this year, I decided to resign from my full-time job as the Director of Education Programs with an international organization overseeing USDA School meals programs in Africa to serve as the CEO of AfriThrive.

 

How is the concept of change important to your work? What kind of change does AfriThrive hope to bring about?

 

AfriThrive’s primary objective is to address the root causes of food and financial insecurity. It is built on the premise that access to culturally appropriate healthy foods, combined with strategic, community-focused services can provide a platform for low-income black immigrants to lift themselves out of poverty and achieve economic stability. AfriThrive sees gardening and production of culturally appropriate food initiatives as deeply intertwined in a struggle against broken food systems and economic inequalities, and aims to establish community-led food justice projects that will not only empower them but also enable the communities to live a healthy lifestyle in the neighborhoods they call home. Ultimately, AfriThrive hopes to contribute towards creating an enabling mindset and an equitable and sustainable food system that transforms how we grow, buy, prepare, and eat food. 

 

What are your biggest challenges right now?

 

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit 19 months ago, AfriThrive had just started its services. In many this pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities in food, healthcare, housing, education, and economic fronts. AfriThrive is committed to addressing food equity and economic opportunity gaps, but the needs are overwhelming. As low-earners, immigrant parents take up two or more jobs to make ends meet. As a result, children not only lack much needed parental care and supervision but also see their school grades plummet with dire consequences of academic failure, disillusionment, eventual school drop-out and possible juvenile delinquency. A catch for black families in America!  Many parents must make the difficult decision to put food on the table or a roof on their heads. Deciding between paying rent or medical bills and food is a difficult one. We are seeing a lot of families struggle in this. We serve about 600 families weekly. 

 

As we look to the new year, I can say that our biggest challenge is capacity building to meet the unprecedented need. We need to fundraise and hire staff to build stability for more families. Secondly, as the volume of food we handle weekly continues to increase, about 10,000 pounds of fresh food, we have a new challenge— which is a good one because we are growing—, of developing an innovative cold storage resource to enable us to distribute food more efficiently and reach more families.

 

What is inspiring you right now?

 

Our successes in the distribution of culturally appropriate healthy foods to immigrant households and persons, particularly, during the COVID-19 pandemic period forms our strongest source of inspiration. We grew from serving a handful of families pre-covid to about 650 to 700 families. We became the resource center for other referrals. Nowadays families refer to AfriThrive as “Foodmacy” because of our focus on healthy foods.  To increase our impact, we formed partnerships with several organizations that do similar work such as the DC Central Kitchen and they have been instrumental in our work. The support from partners who have invested in our mission such as Eat the Change Impact, The Meyer Foundation, The Greater Washington Community Foundation just to name a few has been inspiring. Gaining such a trust in our first year and second year of operation speaks volumes about our mission and personally, this is very humbling. 

 

If you were a plant or a fungi, what would you be? 

 

I will be a mushroom! As a child, I enjoyed hunting mushrooms in the wild. I miss it to date.


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