Lay health workers trained by Siloam students

“I‘m too much glad to see you because you are Nepali.” Greetings like this one from a Nepali man bring joy to 19-year old Anita Nepal who loves helping people in the Nepalese community of Nashville.  Anita, born in a refugee camp in Nepal to Bhutanese parents, was recently trained as a lay health worker by pre-medical students participating in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion program. Nashville’s Nepali community – mostly made up of refugees from Nepal and Bhutan – appreciate the cross-cultural understanding that Anita brings as she teaches within her community on the health topics she recently learned.

“Many of the Nepali people do not understand the health care system in America,” says Anita who works full-time in housekeeping at a local hospital. They struggle to know how to make appointments to see a doctor or how to get medicine from a pharmacy because as Anita says, “… in Nepal there were no appointments or prescriptions…you just show up and ask for what you need.”

“I learned many things – I can help many…”

For Siloam’s six-week Community Health Immersion program, pre-medical students were recruited from around the country to live in a refugee apartment complex in southeast Nashville where they trained nine lay health workers like Anita from the neighborhood. Training topics included preventative care like oral health, nutrition, and exercise, along with health navigation topics like how insurance works and the difference between an emergency room and a primary care clinic. Beyond learning how to teach lay health workers, the pre-medical students also explored how to see the vocation of medicine as a calling and to see how to care for patients as whole persons as Jesus did.

The pre-medical students’ work with the lay health workers is making a lasting impact.  The oral health topic alone made an immediate impact on Anita’s family of five who were resettled a year ago in Nashville after spending 21 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. “We did not know about dental floss or how many times each day to brush our teeth or for how long,” Anita says. “Now we do. I learned many things – I can help many Nepali and Bhutanese people.”

Lay Health Workers and CHI Students pose outside their apartment - 2014 - cropped

Pre-medical students and lay health workers pose outside following a training session. Lay health workers include (L-R) Samson Sarki from Bhutan (in turquoise), Paulos Ezekiel from Eritrea (in purple), and Anita Nepal from Nepal (in blue and red). Pre-medical students (L-R back row) include Will Davies, Stewart Goodwin, Kenny Namkoong, Frances Cobb, Caleb Huber, Will Tucker, along with Reinie Thomas (kneeling), and Lauren Roddy (in blue on right). Pre-medical student Chelsea Travis is behind the lens!

Off with a bang!

It has been quiet this week since our nine CHI participants (7 pre-meds and 2 directors) left town after spending an exciting six-weeks with us on a Community Health Immersion.  As we celebrate our nation’s independence this weekend, let’s also celebrate the ministry of presence that our freedoms allow us to carry out.  Check out this video that the students put together as a celebration of how God is moving in their lives as they prepare to be future physicians:

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.