Jordan Miller, member of the G.O.D. East Africa team and volunteer with the Immigrant and Refugee Program, writes about an opportunity she had to teach public health seminars to a group of refugees from the DRC.
Imagine with me what it would be like if your best chance at providing for your family required you to move to a foreign land. Not only are you unfamiliar with the culture or language, but the economic, educational, transportation, and healthcare structures are also completely foreign to you. “Overwhelming” and “paralyzing” don’t quite cut it. As an American, I can hardly begin to compute this type of experience. But for the refugee friends I’ve made from the Congo, this is a daily reality.
Since March, the G.O.D. Int’l immigrant and refugee care program has been facilitating an English class for a group of 15-20 refugees from the Congo. As a result, the students have learned us to be a safe network of people to not only teach them English, but about life in the States in general. As a result, many concerns and questions have surfaced. They have told us how common it is for Americans to overlook them, or mock them when they try to ask a question.
One of their most pressing questions: how do I find a doctor when my child is sick?
Throughout our first cycle of English classes, we listened to their stories, took note of questions, and before starting a second cycle, decided to facilitate seminars on vital health care and financial topics. So I (a medical assistant and soon-to-be nursing school graduate), Christina James (medical assistant) and Megan Ssekabira (doula) took up the helm.
Our first seminar was on First Aid, with the goal to empower parents to safely care for their children’s most basic health needs (minor wounds, fevers) and also to help them know how and when to get more skilled help. Because all three of us serve on the G.O.D. East Africa team and have spent many months serving on the field, we were able to make direct comparisons and contrasts between situations our hearers knew as normal and what things are like in the US, which helped the students grasp concepts more quickly. For example, when teaching them the proper time to call 911, we also reminded them to remember their address numbers and street signs in order to provide the precise location. When teaching about taking medicine properly, we spent time showing them how to open the variety containers used here (there they come in small envelopes or boxes). Though it seems basic, in times of distress, these basic reminders can help them so much.
Before starting our first seminar, we encouraged our friends that they were capable of caring for the basic health needs of their children. Often in East and Central Africa, health care knowledge is guarded fiercely by medical professionals to the extent that most individuals do not know how to care for a simple wound. When teaching on managing fevers, one student asked me “In America, is it really legal for us to use a thermometer ourselves?” He had never owned one or used one back home. (This says nothing of their intellect or parenting abilities, it simply illustrates the differences in culture in hopes of exposing one of many things we may overlook when welcoming new neighbors to our country.) They were learning to do the things they thought only doctors could do. In America, it has been difficult for them to even get ahold of a doctor or even know which one to call. By the end of our seminar, we heard “thank you” over a hundred times and were being asked to come back before we had even finished!
During the seminar we learned that while all of the participants had health insurance, no one knew what that meant or how to use it. Out of 20 participants, zero had a primary care provider and only two had ever been to a hospital! Before their arrival in the States, life in refugee camps afforded them very minimal health care, usually limited to mass-immunization campaigns and care for those in dire need. The concept of wellness visits and preventative care was completely unfamiliar to them. We explained the value in it, and encouraged them to seek help before it is an emergency situation. We explained the different levels of health care (primary, urgent, emergency care and specialists) and which to access based upon the situation. We explained the function of each level and laid the groundwork for upcoming seminars regarding access and expectations. It is our plan to empower them to understand how to find a primary care doctor in their area, how to schedule an appointment, what questions they can ask, as well as understanding their rights to privacy and confidentiality within a hospital setting, to certified medical translators.
The book of Exodus tells us of a similar era, where a growing population of foreigners caused a “host country” to fear, resulting in shrewd dealings. The Hebrew midwives Shiprah and Puah refused to believe that people needing medical assistance was anything to be feared, and worked to provide assistance to help Hebrew babies to survive in a hostile world. In a culture of fear surrounding people who come to our country out of incredible need, we know God will “deal well with us,” when we love them as we would ourselves. I pray that when you come across a newcomers wherever you are, you slow down to listen a little more, show a little more kindness, fear God a little more and see how you could help.