Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Project SHINE sheds light on medical care for East County's refugees

A Project SHINE class  participant
practices CPR on a mannequin.
With East County as home to the second-highest Iraqi population in the United States, Cuyamaca College and the county of San Diego have partnered on a pilot program to address the basic health needs of recent immigrants.
Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders) is a six-month program that offers classes in English As a Second Language with a focus on health literacy. The goal of the free El Cajon classes is to help recent refugees become more self-sufficient by teaching them practical English and lessons in basic health so they can make doctor’s appointments and be able to explain their medical needs.
While open to all refugees and immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years or less, the classes are held at four sites near El Cajon’s downtown core to target the more than 11,500 Iraqi refugees who have moved to the area since 2007.

For two hours every week, the refugees have been attending the workshop classes, learning practical information like filling out patient background forms and the difference between a cold and the flu. Project SHINE, based at Temple University in Philadelphia, began locally at two sites in late January and drew such large classes that two other sites were added to serve a total of more than 110 refugees.

Administrators hope that Project SHINE continues beyond June, noting that its popularity reflects a clear need. In addition to helping refugees become more independent, officials foresee fewer people calling   9-1-1 to seek basic medical services or going to hospital emergency wards for non-critical treatment, both growing complaints the county has been receiving with the immigrant influx.
“The county has been aware of this challenge of having an influx of refugees who are uneducated about when to call 9-1-1 and when to go to the emergency room – local hospitals are being impacted, clearly,” said Renee Nasori, the local Project SHINE coordinator, who works for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District‘s Continuing Education and Workforce Training program based at Cuyamaca College.
Some of the refugees are also students at Cuyamaca College, which has taken a proactive approach to addressing the ESL needs of its growing enrollment of Iraqi refugees. Another pilot program for recent Iraqi immigrants that taught English in the context of office work was also a partnership between the college district and San Diego County.  
“As an institution that embraces the diversity of our students and holds in high regard virtues like self-respect, independence and kindness, Cuyamaca College is a welcoming place for anyone who values learning,” President Mark Zacovic said. “We applaud the fortitude of the Iraqi resettlement community as we continue to offer our services and assistance to the best of our ability.”
Nasori, who relocated with her family from Iraq to the United States as a youngster, sympathizes with the refugees, particularly the elderly who have greater medical needs, but are the least equipped to seek help.
“Our goal is to educate in a very simple fashion, how the healthcare system works in this country,” she said. “A lot of these refugees are very low-income with few resources. These classes are held near El Cajon’s downtown core so people can walk to get to them. They pick up a lot of new words, and the fact that these are non-credit classes with no tests to take lessens the pressure on the refugees. Many are depressed, so beyond the educational benefit, these classes are a way for them to meet and talk to others who share their language and experiences.”
The classes are taught at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Syriac Catholic Church; the Grossmont Adult Center; and the offices of two refugee resettlement agencies: Elder Multicultural Access and Support Services, or EMASS; and Kurdish Human Rights Watch, Inc. They are taught by bilingual volunteers, mostly refugees who have lived in the United States for at least a couple of years, Nasori said.
The 26 tutors recruited from a network of churches and the social service sector receive a $125 stipend for 16 hours of service each month. They follow a curriculum developed by Temple University with lessons covering such topics as describing ailments and symptoms to medical staff.
On a recent afternoon, one volunteer, Najwan Al Ani, translated for a Red Cross certification class in CPR and AED’s (Automated External Defibrillator.) In the small office, the students took turns practicing their resuscitation skills on a half-dozen mannequins.
Al Ani, who had been a physician in Iraq, said she volunteered because she felt her language and medical skills could be put to good use.
“I know how difficult it is for them to have to start a new life, to learn strange customs and to begin to understand a healthcare system that is so different to them,” she said.
For more information about Project SHINE, go to www.projectshine.org or call (619) 660-4049.