Oregon is the eleventh largest refugee resettlement state with 1700 new refugees coming annually. Since the early 1990's, Portland's African refugee population has grown steadily, with the largest number of refugees coming from Ethiopia and Somalia. In the Portland tri-county area there are an estimated 16,000 African refugees and immigrants, making it the largest African population in the state.
While all refugees face serious challenges during resettlement, African women are especially vulnerable and at risk. Many are single mothers with several children. They have lost their husbands, sons, brothers and fathers to the ravages of war and now must assume the position that in their traditional cultures was held by men. Most are ill prepared for this role, and the absence of a supportive partner creates enormous stress and fear.
The AWC was established in January 2003. A group of African women began meeting with Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW) to talk about the issues of concern in their communities. With the help of LCSNW, they applied for for a grant from the office of Refugee Resettlement to create a community-based organization that would act as a voice for African women and their families. In 2003, they received the funds through ORR. The AWC was then formed to address the needs of African refugee and immigrant families in the community.