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Working with Refugee and Immigrant Women

carseatscarseatsNot far from Cleveland High School, in a simple wooden building on Martin Luther King Way, nursing students under the direction ofProfessor Marjorie Muecke from theDepartment of Psychosocial and Community Health are gaining valuable clinical experiences working with refugee and immigrant women at the only local organization exclusively dedicated to serving this group. ReWA, the Refugee Women's Alliance, was founded in 1985 by a group of successfully resettled refugee women from Southeast Asia to offer culturally appropriate support services to other immigrant women and their families. Today, about 800 of these women come to this non-profit, multi-ethnic agency to receive educational assistance, bilingual services, and information about health care.

Working in collaboration with ReWA staff as well as other health care agencies and providers, nursing students have been involved in projects such as conducting community surveys to identify health care needs for a grant ReWA obtained to create a model health education class and other community outreach services. "For many women, clinics and hospitals are frightening, overwhelming places that lack any relevance to their own ideas of health and illness," Muecke explains.

"Our students learn that there are implications for everything they do," says Muecke. "As a result, they learn that listening is often more important than giving out information." For example, students teaching correct hand washing techniques must be careful not to convey the notion that the learner is dirty. And they are often surprised about health hazards these women face every day, such as not understanding the correct way to use a car seat.

Because volunteer translators are often not available for the more than 20 different languages and dialects spoken at ReWA, nursing students "learn valuable lessons about how well one can communicate without knowing the language," Muecke explains.

Muecke, adjunct professor of both anthropology and health services, also taught a campus-wide course on refugee issues in the 1980s and 90s. She has a long history of international work, including 27 years of field research studying the effects of rapid social changes on two generations of families in Chang Mai, Thailand. She is also director of the SE Asia Center in the Jackson School of International Studies.

CREDIT:  Nursing students at the Refugee Women's Alliance teach the correct use of car seats.