Empathy Overcomes

As someone who carries my faith and ethnic background visibly, I have always been conscious of how others perceive me. I have been fortunate enough to have spent my life in cities marked by multiculturalism and coexistence, and have had limited encounters with prejudice and discrimination. That is until I moved down south to serve with the National Health Corps in Florida.

I serve at River Region Human Services, a substance abuse and mental health treatment facility. The primary services they provide are medically assisted treatment of opiate dependence/addiction. As a case manager I help clients overcome barriers to accessing and benefiting from care such as finding housing, transportation to the clinic, applying for assistance after the hurricane, and more. It’s a position that allows me to meet face-to-face with clients, delving into the depths of their personal lives and struggles.

When I began service in Jacksonville, I was a bit nervous about experiencing prejudice or maybe even being in danger.  One of the first things I noticed at my host site was the demographic served. The majority of our clients are low income and Caucasian, mirroring the national statistics. Many of our clients had never interacted with anyone outside of their race or faith before. However, as my service term progressed the fear of racial profiling gradually diminished.

Despite the comfort I developed at my host site, a few months into my service term I met a very special client who was going to teach me a lesson I would not soon forget. The moment he walked into my office, I saw the grimace on his face and heard the gruffness in his voice. He attempted to leave mumbling that he would never get help from “my kind of people”. After some coaxing he returned and we began filling applications. Remaining calm, I avoided his questions about me, and asked him more and more about himself. To my surprise he opened up, discussing his relationship, financial issues, and childhood. I was able to help him with more than what he came in for. His visits became daily, and he began referring to me as his “hero”.  I am a strong believer in the phrase “actions speak louder than words”, and in my service I was able to experience it. In helping this client, I was able to present people of different races or ethnicities as more than their depiction in the media. I learned about the bond that kind words and serving others forms. In my future as a physician I will always remember how kindness overcame hate.

This blog post was written by NHC FL member, Manahil Agha. 

Manahil serves at River Region Human Services as a Case Manager.