Dr. Yamin Visit

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Today Center for Health and Human Rights staff were privileged to meet with Dr. Alicia Yamin who took time to visit our clinic. A professor of law at Georgetown University and leading scholar on health and human rights, she has worked in countries around the world studying issues such as poverty and the health impacts of gender inequality.

She is interested in supporting our high school program, sharing our philosophy that youth are particularly important to engage in the dream of a culture of health and human rights, because the values of the youth will become the culture of the future. “I think youth are the experts about what it is like to live in their reality. They just need to be given the words to tell their stories,” she said.

In between her work with the UN and other social development groups, she has graciously agreed to commit time to meeting with our high school teams throughout the year, especially our ESL students; to learn about their experience and empower them to cultivate their voice to articulate their experience of human rights or lack thereof.

As she left, she autographed our copy of her latest book on our office bookshelf, “Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity: Human Rights Frameworks for Health and Why They Matter.”

“In development and social policy, health has conventionally been construed in terms other than ‘as a right,’ so it is worth exploring what it would mean for… anyone – to claim health as a right.”

-Dr. Yamin, Power, Suffering, and the Struggle for Dignity

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Patient Profile: Firouz Khafaji

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Center for Health and Human Rights began our support of Firouz in 2016. A young immigrant from Iran, Firouz worked two non-stop jobs as a waitress and an evening nurse when she unexpectedly felt a crippling pain in her legs. She was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood that destroys body functioning. Her chemotherapy began that day.

Unable to work due to the effects of the leukemia and chemotherapy, Firouz lost both jobs and her health coverage, though the supervisor of her restaurant contributed to her treatment costs for the first 6 months because she had been such a hard worker. CHHR then took full responsibility for the costs of her treatments, organizing tireless benefit events until she could be enrolled in Medicaid. Firouz also received numerous visits in the hospital from CHHR staff and community to keep her spirits high throughout the painful chemotherapy process.

In 2017, CHHR also carried out a campaign to find Firouz a bone marrow donor match. As her treatments continue, the Center continues to lighten Firouz’s load by covering the full costs of her rent during the next year when she will not be able to work. Please join us in our support of a truly deserving patient and individual!

Contribute to Firouz’s campaign here. Any contribution counts!: https://www.healthasright.org/causes-grid/

“I want to appreciate them [the donors] for being so kind to me. They’re sending me positive energy, and they want to save my life. I like them truly from all of my heart.”

-Firouz Khafaji

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Patient Profile: Maryam Hatami

-Ron Lapitan

Center for Health and Human Rights began our support of Maryam Hatami in 2015. A university student from Iran who immigrated to Northern VA to study, Maryam discovered a lump in her breast but decided not to seek medical attention, hoping instead that the lump would disappear because she had no health insurance. When CHHR offered her a free biopsy, the Center diagnosed her with an advanced stage of breast cancer and urged an immediate surgery chemotherapy to stop the aggressive mass.

Because Maryam and her husband came to Northern VA without family or a community of support, they could not afford the $30,000 treatments. CHHR’s team became her community of support and took full responsibility for the costs, spending the next month tirelessly organizing benefit events and outreach. The community responded with an outpouring of support in the form of individual donations, fundraisers by middle school groups, and a benefit concert hosted by Persian pop singer and CHHR board member Rana Mansour. By the end of the year, Maryam had completed the surgery and chemotherapy. In addition, she had no debts thanks to the support of the CHHR community.

6 months later, Maryam’s breast cancer has returned at a time when her husband has been laid off from work, and the couple is struggling financially. CHHR continues to support her and plans to organize more benefit events to assist with her treatments. Please join us in our continued support of a truly deserving patient and individual!

Hear Maryam tell her story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cg2-Th6XS4

Contribute to Maryam’s campaign here. Any contribution counts!: https://www.healthasright.org/causes-grid/

“Sometimes you might feel that this moment is the end of the world. You are tired of fighting for your life back, but the fact is we should never give up. We have to keep our minds sharp and our spirits strong.”

-Maryam Hatami

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Free Sports Physicals

Today Center for Health and Human Rights travelled to one of the schools in our program to do free sports physicals so the students could enroll in sports. The student body of the International High School in Langley Park in Maryland is 100% immigrants and refugees, most of whom are without insurance. “A sports physical costs $80-$100,” commented Dr. Milani​ as we drove to the school. In all, we saw about twenty students, about $2,000 in free services.

In the beginning, the school was a series of trailer classrooms. As the school rapidly grows, they have moved to a larger brick building. School staff led us to some empty rooms which had not yet been furnished, which we converted into stations to take vitals, test urine samples, and run other tests to pass the athletes for sports. Then we began calling students from the hall, bustling with eager young athletes.

I checked their forms as they left the clinic. “Can you give me the answer now?” asked one boy nervously as I checked his papers. “Am I able to play?”
“You’re all set,” I said with a smile, looking over the doctor’s notes. His face brightened, and he walked out with his head high. Then I felt the importance of these exams to the students. To participate in sports is an opportunity to grow. To nurture the personality. Is the need to grow any less essential to these students than to those at any of the other, more privileged high schools in our program?

“This is one of my soccer players,” said Vice-Principal Sass who doubles as the soccer coach, who explained that one of his boys did a sports physical at a minute clinic, which didn’t pass him because of a high heart rate. Then he took a cardio test which showed that his heart had returned to normal, but he would not be able to see his doctor until November to retake the exam and pass for sports.
“Can he take the test with you, or does he have to wait for his other doctor?” Mr. Sass asked Dr. Milani.
“Then he’ll pay another $80,” answered Dr. Milani quickly. “We’ll see him here.” Our doctors never say no.

“Is my heartbeat-friend friend okay?” asked Mr. Sass with a humorous tone as the boy left the testing area. Dr. Milani approved him.
“Then I’ll see you at practice tomorrow,” said Mr. Sass, clapping him on the shoulder.

“I would be happy to see him again at our clinic. Absolutely free,” said Dr. Milani to a boy who didn’t pass the exam and his coach, even offering to drive him if he had no means of transport.

It changes you, watching the selflessness of our staff, smiling widely and laughing fully as they work, because using their skills to serve is their element. We are at home with the staff of this school, who also thrive on the joy of giving of themselves to watch others grow. To develop as whole individuals with a sense of their full potentials.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

-Mahatma Ghandi

(Image: Nurse assistant Tinoosh​ prepare’s to take a student’s vitals.)

#healthasright #CHHR

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A Vision Spreads

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

At times I also help with checking in patients at our clinic’s front desk.
“I overheard you once talking about a high school program?” asked one patient across the counter today.

“For our Health as Right Program, we go into schools, bring together teams of students, and empower them to create service projects to solve the health problems they notice in our community,” I answered.

I gave her some examples, such as our Fairfax High School group which created a program to empower local foster youth to finish high school. From their research, the students learned that only 30% of foster youth graduate because of their social environment, leading to increased risk of homelessness, teen pregnancy, incarceration, and human trafficking once they age out of the system. “So they realized that just empowering the youth to finish school is a strategic way of fighting all those health problems at once!” I said excitedly to the patient.

“Wow!” she said, inspired by the work of our students. “We tried to start a program like that in the community when I studied to be a nurse. That’s how I think change should be; involving everybody,” she added. “And once they get involved trying to help others, they also become more aware of where to find resources when they need help,” she said. A more resilient community.

“Dr. Milani’s vision,” I said of the founder of our free clinic and developer of the school program, “is to create a culture of health, rather than one where people only think about health once it has become a visible problem. The program thus engages youth to create that culture, teaching them that when they notice problems in the community, they can be the ones to fix them.” The patient smiled excitedly.

She took several flyers to give to the social worker at her workplace, as well as to her own daughter in high school.

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”

-Ryunosuke Satoro

#healthasright #youthteams

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Capacity Initiatives

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

There is a coalition of Northern VA orgs serving refugees called the Capacity Initiative, which had its quarterly meeting today in the basement of a Lutheran church to discuss gaps in the refugee integration process.
Before you reach the church, you pass Lutheran Social Services, one of the major agencies resettling refugees in this area. The other two are Catholic Charities and the Ethiopian Community Development Council, who are ubiquitous at all of these meetings.

Together, they have resettled 1,844 refugees in our area this year, helping them also to connect with local health services and get employed, with the goal of being self-sufficient 4-6 months after their arrival. The majority come from Afghanistan and are Special Immigrant Visas, called SIVs for short; refugees given priority because their lives are at risk for serving US interests. The next two largest groups come from Iraq, and minors from El Salvador.

The Capacity Initiative brings together orgs to holistically address the needs of the resettlement agencies’ clients, and there are Capacity Initiatives just like us to equip every county throughout the state to adjust. The orgs of our Capacity Initiative sit at working groups based on the aspect of the refugee integration process addressed by their expertise, including housing, health, government, and faith. I sat with the education group, representing Center for Health and Human Rights’ high school empowerment program, which supports many immigrant and refugee students to cope with the social-emotional struggles of adapting to a new culture. Sitting across from me were friends from Catholic Charities who connected us to the ESL programs at some of our schools. We have also been discussing developing a version of our program specifically for the youth from their client families from different high schools. “We’ll get back in touch with you, once we have an estimate of how many arrivals we are expecting this year,” said my contact.

Sitting next to me was Lyla, the founder of Global Center for Refugee Education and Science, an NGO that just got registered in February. “We do trainings to help refugees build the language skills and awareness of culture that are essential to integrating,” said Lyla.

“My expertise is ESL, and I saw from my research that helping refugees build language skills was a great need,” she described. “The day the body of Aylan Kurdi, the refugee boy, was found washed up on the shore was the day my own son took his first steps. They were the same age. It could have been my son, I thought, if I didn’t live in a different country. That’s when I knew I had to do something,” she said.

“We are designing our program to help students build their language skills. Perhaps I could consult with you about our curriculum,” I said.
“We’d love for you to speak to our family classes about your resources, such as your free medical services,” she answered.
“I’ll email you today,” I said with a smile. We exchanged cards and shook hands.

The meeting ended, and we parted. So it continues; all of us trying to raise the community’s capacity to adapt to the needs of a shifting world, and lessen suffering in our small piece of it.

“Where, after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world… Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination…”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

#healthasright #chhr

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Bridges of Hope

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

The Virginia Healing Partnership, an expansive network of orgs from across VA working to transition refugees into their new reality. Today was the annual conference, which took place in the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza in Richmond, filled with people in suits representing resettlement agencies, medical practices and social workers, and numerous orgs to address the trauma of those who escape war, poverty and persecution for the trial of adjusting to a new culture.

“Hope is a bridge. It is a mechanism that gets you to tomorrow,” said the opening speaker and coordinator of the state’s refugee integration programs from the podium. “You in this room are the builders of those bridges,” he said. A room of caped heroes, I thought to myself.

I come to these events to network for Center for Health and Human Rights’ free clinic, as well as our high school program to empower students to lead service projects to address the health problems they notice in the community. Our student leaders are a diverse cohort of largely minority youth, including refugees. At the end of the day, I counted the business cards I had collected, each one a conversation with someone I sat next to during a workshop, tapped on the shoulder, or caught in the hallway to discuss potential collaboration. 16. The next morning is always spent following up with these new connections.

I arrived 7am to set up a poster display and met a colleague I have worked with often who also had a booth, representing one of the state’s main resettlement agencies.
“Were we able to see your client?” I asked, referring to a refugee in their program who had only recently arrived, whom the colleague scheduled for a free consultation at our office for her medical problems.
“Yes, thank you!” replied the colleague, then commented, “One of your staff is one my past clients. Wait, don’t tell me the name!” After a pause, she said the name.

I smiled, but on the inside I shuttered. We exchanged more pleasantries and parted. I shuttered, because the name belonged to someone important to me. In a moment, I felt a deep debt of gratitude to the colleague, without whose work my friend and I might never have met. And all this time we worked together, I never knew this connection. Hearing the name also frightened and then saddened me, to consider how much the relationships and good in our lives rest on fragile chances. And how deeply chance and destiny itself are influenced by those who dedicate their lives to compassion.

I want to strive for that destiny-shaping compassion too; to fill the world with bridges of hope that encourage people to live for tomorrow and tomorrow, until we reach a new world.

“Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.”

-Desmond Tutu


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