The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Cultural Health Assets of Somali and Oromo Immigrants in the US: Findings From a CBPR Project

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Blevins, MSW, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Cultural Health Assets of Somali and Oromo Immigrants in the US: Findings from a Community-Based Participatory Research Project


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to understand the cultural health assets of East African immigrants in Minnesota that can be used to develop culturally appropriate health interventions. Minnesota is home to more Somali and Oromo refugees than any other state.  Somali and Oromo refugees experience a number of barriers that limit their ability to access appropriate health care services and promote health. Despite some understanding of the health disparities experienced by East African immigrants, the body of knowledge is still limited upon which to build culturally relevant interventions. One way to develop culturally relevant interventions is to first understand the cultural assets of immigrant communities.

Method: This study used a community based participatory research (CBPR) approach, employing the Asset-Based Community Development framework developed by Kretzman and McKnight (1993). A convenience sample of 49 Somali and 27 Oromo participated in individual interviews.  Inclusion criteria for sample selection were people over age 18, born in East Africa and of Somali or Oromo descent. Quota sampling ensured variation on age and gender.  A twelve-question semi-structured interview guide was developed focused on cultural health assets and practices of Somalis and Oromo.  Five immigrants fluent in Somali and Oromo languages were hired and trained as community asset mappers. The interview data were coded for themes by a multilingual research team. More than 450 initial themes and subthemes emerged from the interviews through open coding; then consolidated as central themes emerged.

Results: Eight cultural health assets common to both Somali and Oromo communities emerged from the interview data. Key cultural health assets revealed include the significance of religion and religious beliefs, religious and cultural practices, a strong culture of sharing, interconnectedness, the prominence of oral traditions, traditional healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, traditional foods and medicine, and a strong cultural value on health.

Implications: The findings from this study indicate that Somalis and Oromo refugees living in Minnesota maintain much of their unique cultures after immigration, which include many health assets on which interventions can be based. The strong cultural asset of religious significance is a potential key building block for developing health interventions. The findings suggest that good health practices endorsed and promoted by religious institutions are likely to be accepted by community members. In this culture with strong oral traditions, proverbs, metaphors and stories that promote healthy living are abundant. The ability to integrate these into health promotion messages can help health practitioners working with East African communities.  Interventions focused on traditional healthy foods and medicines, which are often healthier than western food, may be successful. A noteworthy limitation of the study was the small convenience sample from one urban area. These findings cannot be generalized and further study is needed.


Kretzmann, J.P., and McKnight, J.L.(1993). Building communities from the inside out. Chicago: IL: Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University.