Comfort Dondo began seven years ago to create the organization that would be her everything.
Phumulanispan styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>,” which means peace in Zulu. She formed it from her pain and experiences in order to bring peace to those in similar circumstances.
Dondo, an immigrant from Zimbabwe who arrived in Minnesota in 2004, discovered that the Twin Cities’ domestic violence support system lacked critical characteristics.
As a mother to three children, her experience in Minnesota’s women’s shelter felt like she was in a dorm room or jail cell. According to her, the space was not conducive to mothers with more children as African families are known to have.
span style=”font weight: 400 When I was going through domestic abuse, I tried to navigate shelter systems, but it was really traumatizing. Dondo stated that it almost mirrored the abusive situation he was trying to escape from because there were so many rules and expectations. “There wasn’t enough culturally-specific stuff or leadership to understand my concerns.” It was not a solution that met my needs .”
Domestic abuse can be very difficult for people of color and immigrants. Dondo stated that no matter how much education or language level one has, the system was not designed to help people of color. It also creates barriers for immigrants.
“If you look at a woman like myself, I’m quite eloquent. My four-year stint at St. Kate’s (St. Catherine University) was a great experience. However, when it came time to litigating custody of my children, my family didn’t support me. Dondo stated that being an immigrant can already make you feel isolated and put you at a lower level.
Her ex-husband was wealthy and had family support. She didn’t have this luxury. This is true for many immigrant females, but the experiences of others from historically oppressed areas in the U.S. have some differences.
She said that it didn’t matter if their family was here before. The immigrant experience would be similar to those whose ancestors arrived by force or were forced to leave their homelands. It doesn’t matter if their family has been here before; the systems are selective in that way .”
She was not happy with the shelter’s cookie-cutter approach and left after 10 days. It was difficult for her to find childcare for her three children (ages 3 and 5), which made it hard to pursue other options.
She was determined to improve her situation.
span style=”font weight: 400 I fought a lot and became very resourceful. She said that she realized there was no one else who could save me. “Once that realization was made, I realized the only way out was education span>
After that, she enrolled in a master’s degree program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs of the University of Minnesota. She had limited housing options and her struggles with substance abuse were often used against her in the search for apartments.
Because the school’s night classes were in conflict with the shelter’s curfew regulations, she decided to leave.
“Span style=”font weight: 400 I would then be homeless, not being in a position to get a job or get into an apartment due to things that had occurred because of domestic violence,” Dondo stated.
Although she eventually moved into a dormitory due to her school fees, funds were not enough. She was forced to leave and spent the next months living with her children on couches.
She was staying with a friend when she was woken up at three in the morning by a strange occurrence. She said that she felt inspired to solve the problem at hand.
span style=”font weight: 400 I wanted to create a space where women like me can feel at home,” Dondo stated.
More than 150 women met her and she heard their stories about fleeing domestic violence. Most of them felt that shelters did not accommodate “non-traditional” family arrangements.
The Bush Foundation granted her $89,000, more than three times the amount she applied for.
Seven years later, she is still the leader of Phumulani. The organization reaches approximately 5,000 people per year and offers culturally-specific resources for abuse survivors. Its office is located in Brooklyn Park, and it has a space in the North Loop of Minneapolis.
Dondo wanted to make sure that all women who came to shelters had a place to share their identities.
span style=”font weight: 400 A woman who is suffering domestic abuse is not a victim. She can have many identities. A woman who is coming to the country as a survivor and is either an immigrant or queer, has a disability, or both. These are identities people forget and the standard approach to ‘She’s just a victim’ is not helpful. Dondo said, “We know what she requires. This is what she deserves.”
To her, culturally specific means that there is enough space for everyone to feel at home. Shelters that offer accommodation for people of different faiths such as space for prayer are culturally relevant and can be used for religious purposes.
Generally, we have more children than the average woman of the mainstream. We were not the ones who created domestic violence shelters. Dondo stated that if they were, there would be more single-family homes and more private apartments.
Shelters must also consider familial structure and the meaning of “family” in different cultures.
span style=”font weight: 400 If you have three to four children and your family trees don’t look mainstream or you have extended relatives living with you, A woman fleeing domestic abuse must flee with her entire village. Many African immigrant women and women of color are forced to leave their aging mother when fleeing domestic abuse. She can’t leave her sister’s daughter or her son, who were teenagers and cannot be in shelter.
It has clients all over the globe. Some clients are not even residents of the United States.
Phumulani currently assists a woman from Zimbabwe, Primrose Ruwocha whose husband sprayed liquid acid on her face. Ruwocha will travel to Minnesota in August for reconstructive surgery at Mayo Clinic.
Although most of the clients are African immigrants, assistance is available to all people. They are mostly from Brooklyn Park, which is home to approximately 4,000 Liberian immigrants.
Through social media and in-person events, the organization reached nearly 5,000 women over the past year.
“Phumulani turned my life around 180 degrees”
Nataliya McCoy was a recent client. She was a stay at-home mother to three children when her husband kicked her out of the house.
McCoy stated that span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” In one day, all changed.” “My children were taken away from me. My bank account was empty and I had zero dollars. My husband filed for divorce. I didn’t have an attorney, and I didn’t know where to live .”
McCoy, originally from Ukraine was left without anything. McCoy was forced to go to a shelter for domestic abuse, where she stayed there for six months. She stayed with a church member and was eventually connected to Dondo after a few months. She moved in with Dondo in January.
span style=”font weight: 400 She (Dondo), is from Zimbabwe, while I am from Ukraine. McCoy stated that she and McCoy shared similar experiences. She was fighting for her children for many years, so I call her my sis.” It’s so bizarre. We don’t look alike. We are from totally different countries. We are from completely different countries.
McCoy was stuck in a difficult situation and had no income. McCoy also owes $12,000 to an attorney.
Dondo provided housing, advice, and emotional support to her.
McCoy stated that without her, I would probably not be alive today. “Phumulani completely changed my life 180 degrees.
McCoy hasn’t seen her children for nearly two years. Dondo was there to lend a helping hand.
McCoy was accused in a plot to kill McCoy’s children and her husband. She is currently going through divorce proceedings. McCoy claims that her husband didn’t pay McCoy’s legal fees, even though the court believed him. McCoy will be appearing in court on August 15th and she hopes to have the opportunity to visit her children.
Dondo is helping her along the way.
span style=”font weight: 400 She stated that you must move forward immediately. It is impossible to change anything. Just move forward and get stronger. McCoy stated that when children are in my life, I’ll be a totally strong and different person.”
Phumulani offers several programs that are culturally specific. The healing circle program is a group of women that brings together women to avoid isolation, which can lead to abuse.
Dondo explained that the circles were adapted from African healing rituals.
span style=”font weight: 400 It’s how our mothers used heal one another back on the continent. Women gather around tea to talk about anything and everything. She said that she noticed that Americans don’t have the time or the energy to talk about their mental health and well-being when they’re abroad.
The region from which the participants hail will determine what kind of food, drink and attraction they receive in the circle.
span style=”font weight: 400 Minnesota has approximately 22 African immigrant nations represented. We try to adapt to what each country does,” Dondo stated. We have Ethiopians, East Africans, and Oromo who make coffee. We have women from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania; they make tea .”
Dondo stated that abuse in the African community is very different to the dominant perception.
span style=”font weight: 400 Our labor trafficking is very similar to an aunt bringing her nephews from home. They are legal on paper and they go through the correct channels. It’s difficult for our police officers and justice departments to understand when they’re there,” she stated. “Our traffic survivors look like nurses, they’re professionals but they don’t get their paychecks and they have to carry their green cards.”
Phumulani works to provide legal advocacy for mothers who are facing difficulties with child custody or immigration. It also provides housing for women who are in dire need.
span style=”font weight: 400 Housing can be a major hindrance to women in abusive relationships. Dondo stated that six children are the norm in most communities. “A woman with six children stayed in a hotel for one week.” It was extremely painful, but she is now in an apartment.
Phumulani is renovating an old six-bedroom house into a duplex in Plymouth. It could accommodate two women with many children. She plans to donate one unit to another survivor, who has also begun helping other women.
Phlumani has received some government funding as well as some foundation funding. It was funded by the American Rescue Plan, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and Minneapolis Foundation, as well as the HRK Foundation.
A lack of diversity in decision-making positions is another obstacle to better outcomes for women living in shelters. Dondo stated that domestic violence programs have been traditionally run by white women.
span style=”font weight: 400 We have a large number of victim-survivors that are people of color. She said that advocates of color are also present, but advocates are not implementing the rules and regulations or procedures from the top. So while the domestic violence and sexual violence movements talk a lot about feminism, Anti-Racism, and Blackness, it’s a lot more talking than listening.
Esperanza United or Asian Women United have programs that are more culturally-specific and are run by leaders of color. Dondo stated that other programs like Tubman and Women’s Advocates aren’t led by people of colour, even though they are meant to help women of color.
span style=”font weight: 400 That’s Minnesota’s topography. That’s the truth. She said that she has lived through this as a survivor, as a policy analyst advocating policy change, as well as as someone who worked at a coalition level leading multiple organizations and studying the function of those programs.
Pulmani’s staff includes Dondo and 12 other people.
Phumulani has made a profound impact on her life.
span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” The other day, when I was looking at photos, it got me emotional,” she said. “I saw the car that I was staying in. Then I thought, “Oh my God, we’re getting ready to renovate our beautiful home. Who would have thought? ‘”
She hopes to continue making that change for others. Recently, she spoke to a young woman who had been a victim of sexual assault. Dondo received a message from the woman a few weeks later. She thanked her for her support and told her she was now approaching her situation differently.
span style=”font weight: 400 For me, it’s difficult, but that’s what keeps me going. Dondo stated that he continues to do it because he wants to be there for others like no one was for him.