Horn of Africa People’s Aid NI (HAPANI)

Horn of Africa People’s Aid Northern Ireland was established in 2011 by a group of volunteers in response to a need to provide support for refugees, asylum seekers, individuals and families from Horn of Africa (HoA) and beyond who are living in NI. Refugees and asylum seekers from the region face a huge range of challenges living in Northern Ireland including language barriers, poverty, difficulty accessing healthcare and education, connecting with services and securing employment. HAPANI works from an ethos of social inclusion – empowering those who are socially, financially or physically vulnerable to promote individual wellbeing and support thriving communities.

Mentor: WomensTEC

Refugees and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable members of society and experience a high level of health inequalities shaped by social factors such as discrimination; poor living, housing and working conditions; and inadequate or restricted access to mainstream health services. Through their Elevate project, HAPANI planned to address the inequalities faced by refugees and asylum seekers when trying to access health and social care services in NI. Individuals and families trying to access services encounter many challenges including language barriers, low levels of health literacy and poor cultural competency among health providers, stigma and inadequate interpreting services.

HAPANI wanted to ensure people had access to information and support they could engage with and understand and be able to make informed decisions about their health. The aim of HAPANI’s Elevate project was to facilitate capacity building classes to train seven volunteers to increase knowledge and understanding of the health inequalities their community faces so they can advocate on their behalf to avail of services. Volunteers would also learn more about the health and social care system in Northern Ireland and the practices of health care providers when supporting refugees and asylum seekers.


Suleiman Abdulahi, Director from HAPANI felt taking part in the Elevate Health Inequalities and Community Development training for mentees at the start of the programme helped to enhance his knowledge and awareness of health inequalities and what actions can be taken to challenge inequalities using community development approaches.

Through the Elevate project, HAPANI volunteers and the wider organisation have been able to make a meaningful impact in the community in which they operate. Volunteers have learned more about the health and social care system in Northern Ireland and the specific needs of asylum seekers, refugees and those who do not have good English language skills. HAPANI reported that volunteers are now more confident in recommending services and advocating on behalf of participants for health-related services which has resulted in more people in these groups availing of services.

Volunteers have assisted people in registering with their local GP, as well as dental services, mental health services and Covid-19 vaccination services etc. They have also provided practical support including setting up appointments and filling out forms. As part of the project, HAPANI developed a two-way blueprint map of different services provided in NI for both participants and healthcare professionals when supporting refugees, asylum seekers and those with no/poor English language skills. The map also includes information on regional interpreting services.

The project has had a wider organisational impact as volunteers shared the knowledge they learned with the rest of HAPANI’s volunteers, equipping the organisation to address health inequalities for those most in need in the community. HAPANI estimates that 250+ people will benefit from the support they are now able to provide for people accessing health services in NI.

Through taking part in the Elevate Programme, we have been able to increase access to key services in the health and social care sector for asylum seekers, refugees and those who do not speak English. Through advocating on their behalf, we are contributing towards a healthier and more confident community, as they are no longer left behind and forgotten about.

Suleiman Abdulahi, Director, HAPANI