Friday, July 22, 2016

In the streets

Apartments in refugee neighborhood
Cambodian children - cold in the apartments
The way it worked was I would take clinical groups of community health nursing students into refugee communities. There were nearly always 8 students/group, so initially we had 4 teams of 2 students and me. Later as our reputation spread, we had volunteer and then paid translators and community health workers, like promotoras de salud. Still later in the process we developed clinics with medical (primary care, psychiatry, gynecology, pediatrics, etc.) and other services, which were integrated into the district health scene. But for now, I’ll describe the straight district health end of things.

We started in one apartment building (about 40 units), where a lot of refugees lived (as well as other poor people). We went door to door, finding health and related problems. On the first day, two of students helped deliver a baby – so we knew things were going to be interesting. Every time we’d find a problem, one of the student teams would stop to help the people solve the problem. Some problems were straightforward and readily solved, some took semesters to solve, and some were never completely solved. Often, one thing would lead to another and we’d work with the people over time. And Leslie was working with us (what an education for students that was!). It was never, ever about referral. It was always about helping the most underserved people be served – solving problems (pregnancy, primary care, depression, hunger, family violence, cancer, and on and on and on). 

In the day we sweat it out in the streets
of a runaway American dream

Community garden outreach
Agape Clinic waiting room
When we got through the first building, we left a team in that building to continue working through problems and went through the same process in the next building. Then we left another team in the second building and started working through the third. And so on. Over time, over semesters we had all the buildings covered in about an 8 block area (which was a lot). And we also had classes and other outreach (health screening, vaccinations, etc.) going on in schools, churches, and community gathering places; for awhile we were doing intake assessments for children who had been removed from their homes because of abuse; and we added the medical, etc. and expanded clinic hours.

Estevan Garcia, MD and Charles Kemp, FNP
Much of what we accomplished was through partnerships and cooperative relationships with community organizations, from grass-roots groups like the Association for Salvation of Cambodian Refugees to Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas County Health Department, National Council of Jewish Women, Dallas Police, and a number of foundations, churches, and religious organizations - and of course, the Agape Clinic.

We said we would take responsibility for this community and we did that. Far out vision, isn’t it. With dignity and justice for all in the real world. What an education for students it all was!

It lasted in one form or another for about 30 years and parts of it (East Dallas Health Center, Agape Clinic) continue through today
Refugee children on Carroll Street
and are seeing more patients now than ever before.

We didn't have a TV in the waiting room. Instead we had books - especially children's books and a children's play area.

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