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:

Children – Pulling at my Heart Strings

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

My little neighbors are so full of life! The children of our neighborhood have taken a part of my heart. They bring me so much joy! They are always happy to see me and I, …I am truly happy to see them. I have gotten to know and befriend several of the kids. How sweet, thoughtful, sharing, and honest they are, and in such a ripe place of growing too. I know why Jesus loves the children! These encounters make me want to be a good role model for them and purposely teach them what is right, and to love God, themselves, and one another.

“I know why Jesus loves the children!”

I pray for these kids so much, especially those children for whom God has given me special discernment. Some of them I feel may be facing or have at some point in their lives faced neglect, trauma, or even abuse. These situations really do cause my heart pain. Just thinking of how ill things are shaping and affecting these young kids’ lives bothers me. Sometimes I especially hurt because I don’t know how to help them–particularly with their physical needs. At times, I feel this way because I look and think we barely have enough to take care of ourselves, yet I am determined to continue to pray earnestly for these kids and their families. This is especially important because we don’t know what things the rest of their families may be enduring –it could be anything from depression to abuse as well.

“Some…faced neglect, trauma, or even abuse.”

These kids, however, mostly just want to be around us and play games. Many of them have such big hearts. I proudly wear three colorfully beaded bracelets that were made by three of the girls here. One of them gave me a toy gift box filled with a card decorated with Minnie Mouse stickers, a purple hacky sack, and a hand full of different colored, plastic, jumping frogs. The families here are also very giving, as well. Often times, they welcome you into their homes offering a bottle of water or some juice–and this they give out of the little that they have. Our neighbors are so generous! I feel so blessed by this kindness. Lord, please help me to be able to come to a place where I can be even more generous out of a sincere heart and from Your Love.

“…they give out of the little that they have.”

I will truly miss these kids when it is time for us to leave. We have already had to experience a family moving away. Although they were moving on to better things it was still sad. Even though I will miss these kiddies dearly, I hope that I can leave them with memories and Someone who will be with them always as they continue on their life journeys.

“Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’” (Acts 3:6 NKJV)

Highlands Kids 1 (Chelsea Travis blog)

Reinie Thomas, a pre-medical student at Hope College in Michigan and CHI participant, enjoys laughter and games with kids in the neighborhood.

Highlands Kids 2 (Chelsea Travis blog)

Chelsea Travis, a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina pre-medical program, poses with neighbor children.

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.

From Strangers to Neighbors

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

Low-income neighborhood they told me. I thought we would rarely be outside in our neighborhood. How I was wrong. Within the first few days of arriving at the Highlands, I have interacted with some of the most generous, good-hearted people I have ever met.

Watching out for suspicious people that hang around our apartment was implied, but once again that was not the case. Every single time I walk back to my room, an old Nepali couple is sitting outside the entrance to our flat.

“…we meet our hands together and bow in return with a ‘Namaste,’…” 

We all know the male Nepali around here for wearing an orange t-shirt and hat. What it signifies, I’ll probably never know. He greets us first the American way with a handshake, then we meet our hands together and bow in return with a ‘Namaste,’ which is the appropriate greeting for those from Nepali. Even from two completely different cultures, we both try to relate with one another which is honestly such an amazing experience.

Reinie with two young friends

Reinie Thomas, a rising sophomore at Hope College, enjoys building relationships with two young neighbor friends.

We have found that many of our neighbors have children as well, and those children now know exactly where we live. Many Nepali, Burmese, Hispanic among other local children visit us daily so we can come play soccer with them, give them a glass of water, have them play with our hair, play on the playground or simply to talk.

Within a few days we built a genuine relationship through these activities. Soon, the children’s demand for us to play with them occurred during our (the CHI students) work, meal and nap times. In extreme cases, we began having to slowly close the glass door to our house with children grasping on to it, with their faces pressed against the glass and locking it so we could have a meal (we all felt so awful for doing this!).

One time, this led to a mini child-march outside the glass window by our table during dinner so that we would re-open the door and play with them. There were kids from ages 2 to 11, arms crossed, and one-by-one walking by the glass door with pouty faces. Once the children had gone back to their apartments and we had finished our meal, we found written on the sidewalk outside our door an “I love you Laurin” from one of the girls as a final plea for us to finish our meal and play.

This living environment originally had me worried, thinking that we would have to keep to ourselves most of the time, but as I have described, it’s the complete opposite. Very few things have made me feel unsafe in this community, rather, I feel comfortable and am eager to meet more people. It’s a great feeling when every time I walk through our neighborhood I know someone, child or adult, and am able to share a common greeting with them!

As a CHI team we each bring something different to the table when it comes to meeting new people, which I could not be more thankful for. As mentioned in Romans 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

This has allowed me to meet many people that I would have never interacted with before solely due to the gifts of my team members. Through these first few weeks, it is evident that we are growing as individuals, a team and a community.

I am sure the best is yet to come.

Globe trotting by knocking next door

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

“How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you and your family eat a day?

What are the biggest problems for you and your family?

For your community?

Do you exercise?

Has anyone in your family been sick in the last year?

Do you know where to go for healthcare?

Do you and your family have health insurance? ….”

 

These are some of the questions we asked refugee families in our Community Health Surveys (CHS). This summer as part of Siloam’s Community Health Immersion, nine of us went door-to-door completing the CHS among refugee families in the Highlands and surrounding apartment communities. Door Knocking at the HighlandsThrough the CHS we sought to assess basic wellness and identify community-wide issues encountered by the refugees in understanding the American healthcare system and in transitioning to life here in the United States.

When I first heard we would be going door to door interviewing refugees, I think my blood pressure and anxiety shot up. It sounded like an awesome opportunity to interact with the refugees and assess their health across different nationalities within our new community here at the Highlands, however I was mildly terrified of knocking on the doors of strangers and inviting myself into their homes.

When we first set out, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I encountered behind each door we knocked on was a generous, resilient family working against language barriers, childcare issues, financial burdens, and general confusion in their transition to a new culture.

In that week and half, it was like we were traveling the globe. I spoke with Bhutanese, Burmese, Rwandan, and Ethiopian families within our community. No one refused to answer our questions and many people went so far as to thank us for taking time to listen to them and trying to understand the difficulties they have encountered in transitioning to life away from their home country.

I was so encouraged as a volunteer and future healthcare provider by the generous and helpful attitude of the refugee families I had the pleasure of meeting. By interacting with them in their homes and taking time to sit with them, we were able to gain a better understanding of the health environment experienced by both newly arrived and established refugee families.

Additionally we had the opportunity to observe the aspects of the American healthcare system that cause confusion among these families and ultimately act as barriers to staying healthy.

CHI participants Will Davies and Stewart Goodwin with shoes courteously removed interview Burmese neighbors about their health status.

CHI participants Will Davies and Stewart Goodwin with shoes courteously removed interview Burmese neighbors about their health status.

 

All Things to All People

Stewart Goodwin, co-leader of the 2014 CHI, enjoys food and fellowship with Bhutanese friends.

Stewart Goodwin, co-leader of the 2014 CHI, enjoys food and fellowship with Bhutanese friends.

In just under three weeks now, seven students, co-leader Caleb Huber, and I will begin our 6-week community health immersion experience, entering into the heart of the refugee community in Nashville, where we will live alongside Burmese, Bhutanese, Iraqi, Afghan, Somali, Ethiopian, Cuban, and Congolese people.  We enter in not as know-it-all, medical professionals that have all the answers, but as humble neighbors and friends, seeking to learn from, understand, serve, and empower the refugee community towards health and wholeness… all for the sake of the gospel.

The thing that I am most excited about for the CHI is the potential for life-changing, cross-cultural friendships for the students.  Over the last year, I have gotten to know a family from Sudan, a guy from Congo, and a guy from Bhutan, and they have become some of my best friends.  I have learned so much from them regarding faith, family, food, culture, and worldview.  I am so excited to come alongside the students in taking the risk of crossing cultural and social barriers, embracing the awkwardness, and ultimately seeking to love our neighbors, so that we might say like St. Paul, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”  Because in the end we are all refugees… longing for our heavenly home.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. … To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV)

Written by guest blogger Stewart Goodwin who is completing a year-long fellowship at Siloam as part of The Nashville Fellows.