Collaborative Community Building - Syrian Women’s Health Blog

By Sloane Davidson,  March 29, 2019

How do you define the perfect marriage of self-identified refugee needs and Hello Neighbor programming? The Syrian Women’s Health Group! Our female Syrian refugees shared their concerns about their health, social and emotional wellbeing, and nutrition, directly guiding the creation of this dynamic 4 week program, from January 14th to February 25th, with the assistance of our amazing community partners. 17 Syrian women registered to engage in building a supportive community for understanding and exploring the complexities of wellness in a new environment.

Before the program began, significant work was done to insure cultural sensitivity, investment in the program, and voice for the participants were a priority. A focus group was held to allow the Syrian women to identify the topics they would find most helpful to their progress and well being, giving them a direct voice in everything from the structure of the program to the content. Empowering the Syrian women to take ownership of the program and listening to their direction on their own needs increased the success of the program exponentially. Pre and post test data were used to gauge the growth of confidence and knowledge among our women, as well as gaining new skills, with growth shown in all domains measured.

Our first week of the Syrian Women’s Health Program addressed routine women’s health care, women’s development across the lifespan and healthy body weight. The group also discussed ways to decrease and manage stress within the comfort of your own home, and breast health/self-exams. Hands-on practice with synthetic breasts provided strategic ways to provide practical skills to the participants. The women were engaged, sharing and supporting each other with enthusiasm and humor.

Since our Syrian families love home cooking, week 2 of the Syrian Women’s Health Program focused on healthy food preparation, MyPlate nutritional portions and the importance of nutrients such as calcium and fiber to health. The women discussed the differences between milk in Syria and the U.S. and how to make this vital source of nutrients more palatable. Also, the group talked about the impact of new foods and accessibility of known cooking ingredients on weight gain after migrating to the States. Week 2 provided relevant and engaging everyday skills to all involved.

Finding inner calmness and taking time to care for yourself were the focus of Week 3 of the Syrian Women’s Health Program - and boy did everyone enjoy it! Current mentor Kara Kernan made yoga practice fun and easy - illustrating calming breathing techniques, simple but powerful yoga poses, and awakening the whole body. Yoga mats were distributed to the whole group along with directions for finding Arabic yoga instruction online. Best moment of the day - when asked if the activities of the day were something the group found useful and would like to try again - every hand went up.

Safe administration of over the counter medication, proper use of measuring devices and medication label reading were only some of the extremely important topics covered in our final week of the Syrian Women’s Health Program. The women practiced utilizing various measuring devices which was a great illustration of how easy it is to make measurement mistakes. Discussions focused on strategies for finding pharmacists familiar with working with refugee and immigrant populations, the treatment of seasonal allergies, and the impact of chronic diseases - like high blood pressure and diabetes - on over the counter medication use. The women asked insightful questions and illustrated how seemingly everyday tasks have layers of complexity necessary to understand in order to find success.

All of this incredible programming would not have been possible without our community partnerships! Special thanks to AJAPO - Acculturation for Justice Action and Peace Outreach for providing logistical and interpretation support throughout the 4 week program. Additional thanks to our weekly presenters UPMC Magee, Adagio Health, Hello Neighbor Mentor Kara Kernan, and Asti’s Pharmacy for providing interesting content, refugee specific programming, and relevant weekly gifts for the participants. Thanks to the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall for opening their doors to us with flexibility and cultural sensitivity. Also, the numerous Hello Neighbor mentors who assisted with childcare during the Syrian Women’s Health Program made the program a true success.

In the future, Hello Neighbor plans to continue the Women’s Health Program with the Syrian women in a second round of programming in the near future. Additionally, stay tuned for information about expanding the Women’s Health Program to other cultural groups within Hello Neighbor.

Hello Neighbor’s model of creating supportive communities of neighborhood engagement guided the Syrian Women’s Health Program. Creating programming based on our refugee families self-identified needs, building sustainable community partnerships with organizations familiar with working with refugee populations, and including our program mentors in becoming even more invested in the Hello Neighbor community led to an extremely powerful, valuable, and successful experience for our participants. The engagement, support, and humor the Syrian women created in this shared space - priceless.

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