As a health team member at Nationalities Service Center, I interact with recently arrived refugees and asylees everyday. Some of the individuals and families I work with have been here for over a year, and have established their routines. However, most of the NSC clients I work with have arrived within the past few months to just last week. With families coming from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and speaking various languages, all with different levels of English proficiency, every interaction and relationship is unique.
Having grown up in Philadelphia and raised by Indian immigrants, I’d assumed I’d be prepared to interact with and assist NSC’s clients. Looking back, this had been a naive assumption that was quickly dispelled. There was no way to prepare for the conversations about losing loved ones, protesting for freedom in a detention center, or the depression associated with marrying at a young age. I started this year eager to connect with families from around the world, and listen to the stories they choose to share with me. However, as I began to learn about all the losses associated with being a refugee, loss of various attachments, family, familiarity, and often autonomy, there was an emotional response that I hadn’t anticipated.
In the beginning, I thought I needed to take care of these individuals. I tried to do everything I could - schedule all their appointments, arrange transportation, and sometimes even pick up their medication. But this was the easy route. Soon, there came painful moments when I’d realize the lack of understanding. A client wouldn’t actually know why they were at a certain appointment, or how to get medication refills (and had been without blood pressure medications for weeks), or to tell us when her child is experiencing abdominal pain for two weeks! I started to gather that I wasn't really supporting my clients by doing all the tasks for them, especially without explaining the “whys” and “hows” along the way. During this time, I really began to reflect on my role and how I want to serve these families. I want to help them gain knowledge and a real understanding of how to navigate their medical appointments, use the pharmacy and get refills once the medicines run out, and advocate for assistance when needed. And while I continue to work through the tough emotions that inevitably surface, I now focus more on the resilience and strength of these individuals. Families want to be independent and have complete autonomy. Now when I communicate with my clients, I strive to actively listen and discuss their health without judgement and assumptions. I try to enter conversations prepared to tackle questions and misunderstandings, and share tools and resources, with the goal of giving back autonomy and empowering my families to access and navigate their own health care here in Philadelphia.
[Preview image description: group of three NHC Philadelphia members in conversation]
[Body image description: Silhouettes of two people standing, holding hands with arms in the air]