Empowering the Impoverished

Guest blogger Kenny Namkoong, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Teaching is not a forte of mine.  Public speaking in itself frightens me.  However, those were the requirements coming into the CHI program.  I had to be a teacher to lay health workers from the refugee community.  I also had to speak in front of the staff of Siloam Family Health Center.

“Thankfully, I was wrong.”

Initially, the lay health worker training seemed like a huge obstacle.

CHI participant, Chelsea Travis, works with lay health workers.

CHI participant, Chelsea Travis, works with lay health workers.

I felt like I did not have enough knowledge to teach anyone.  Training the trainer, a time where the Siloam staff taught us healthcare-related information, was informative but it included overwhelming amounts of information.  How was I supposed to teach all of this information to people who had limited English?  Would they even appreciate the training?  I approached the training with skepticism and with the mindset that belittled the trainees.  Thankfully, I was wrong.

“…the tension and worry turned into excitement.”

I was assigned to the first group that presented.  We were in charge of introducing the curriculum and conducting the first lesson.  With the total of 4 lessons, my fellow CHI participants divided up the health-related topics broadly into health navigation, oral health, insurance, and nutrition.  Since my group was first, it was difficult to know what to expect.  However, as the lesson got underway, the tension and worry turned into excitement.  These people were ready to learn. 

The individuals from 5 different countries (Burma, Bhutan, Somlia, Iraq, and Eritrea) were very prepared to learn from us in order to help their respective communities.  They were eager to absorb the information being taught by us.  I felt obliged to improve myself so that I could help the lay health workers become more educated.

The purpose of the community lay health worker training is so that we can relieve the impacts of poverty within the population represented by the lay health worker.  Siloam Family Health Center’s goal is to go beyond its four walls and provide healthcare to those outside of its building.  The lay health workers are a good way to provide preventive care measures to each of the five different communities.  Instead of prescribing medicine and diagnosing symptoms, the usage of lay health workers will benefit the overall health of the refugees and immigrants before things get out of hand.

 “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” 

After finishing all of the training for the refugees, I realized one thing: God is in control.  We planned and executed.  We did all we could in order to educate the workers.  However, if God were not in the midst of our fellowship, I think it would have been a failure.  “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  -Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV).  Its an amazing thing to see individuals from 5 different countries gathered in a small apartment living room in the middle of Tennessee.  Unbelievable.  God works when He is ready.

CHI participants teach lay health workers about nutrition and exercise.

CHI participants teach lay health workers about nutrition and exercise.

The hard part starts now.  What kind of help can we with the newly trained lay health workers give to the community?  Can we make a difference?  Will it be enough?  Although there are many questions to answer, we put our trust in God.  We approached the outreach to empower the lay health workers, not just to pat ourselves in the back.  We train to raise leaders who can help bring an end to poverty: financially, socially, and physically.

Embarking on the Hunger Games

Guest blogger Kenny Namkoong, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

$554.  9 individuals. 2 weeks.

Sounds like a reality show?  Well, these numbers are what we have to work with throughout the 6 week time period.  9 individuals of Siloam’s Community Health Immersion programs (CHI) have to work with $554 on average per 2 weeks.

First week shopping trip, the CHI participants find values at the local Aldi store.

First week shopping trip, the CHI participants find values at the local Aldi store.

In addition to living within the refugee community at the Highlands, the participants have to work with each other in order to survive the food budget set to imitate the food stamps that most of the families in the Highlands receive.  We also received $60 per person for personal spending for the whole 6 weeks.

…$1.47 per meal?

When we first obtained the gift cards containing the budget, I had mixed feelings.  I was excited to get underway with the program and start a new life with 8 others.  However, $1.47 per meal? How are we going to do that?  In addition to the budget, we were expected to include the four essential parts listed in MyPlate: grains, vegetables, fruits, and protein.  The task seemed impossible and daunting.  May the odds be ever in our favor.

The task seemed impossible and daunting.

The CHI crew gathers for "family meals" each evening.

The CHI crew gathers for “family meals” each evening.

On the first day of grocery shopping, the group decided to come up with a battle plan.  We could not just go out there and hope for the best.  One of us suggested that we go to Aldi, a grocery store frequently used by our neighbors.  We accomplished our first shopping with ease, spending about $100 on groceries for the meals for the following week.  However, as the week progressed, we began spending money on things that were unnecessary to our survival. I guess seeing the overwhelming choices presented at Walmart got us excited.  The spending spree stopped short thanks to some of our analytical members; they directed us towards “the light.” Despite cutting down on shopping at places like Walmart, which was surprisingly expensive, we still needed some assistance.

Thankfully, Siloam health community members came to the rescue!  The staff members took turns to help feed us once every week.  They kindly took us into their homes and fed all 9 of us, from pancakes and bacon to burgers and fries.  We got to enjoy the proteins that we direly desired.

…breaking bread in their homes,

they received their food with glad and generous hearts…

It reminded me of Acts 2:45-47, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (ESV).  The last part especially rings true.  I believe the Lord will provide for the ministry of Siloam day by day for taking part in our hardships and those in the community.

…it is serious business…

On a $10-meal-for-a-family scavenger hunt, Davies gets the shaft on his suggestion of catching mice to add protein to their diet.

On a $10-meal-for-a-family scavenger hunt, Davies gets the shaft on his suggestion of catching mice to add protein to their diet.

Whether it is eating at the house of Siloam’s staff or just eating at home amongst us, the dinner times are a pleasure.  The enjoyment of the whole process seems to be present starting from buying groceries, eating together, and worrying about the next meal.  However, it was a great lesson for each one of us.  While this process is temporary for us, for those living in the Highlands, it is serious business.  Immersing in the meal budget helped me to see things from the inside.  For example, how will these refugees worry about buying nutritious food and exercising when thinking about next meals itself is a war.  Living on a food budget helped me internalize the attitude of the refugees and the point of view at which they approach us.  It brings a whole new meaning to holistic patient care.  Therefore, if I were to do this program again with the budget limitations, I would gladly volunteer.