Amidst the heated debate about how to manage the global refugee crisis, many people choose to overlook the individual stories of hardship, faith and hope that cause someone to pick up and move away from everything they know and love to seek a better life in a new land.
Right now, according the Council on Foreign Relations, there are nearly 30 active conflict situations in the world right now that have an impact on United States interests. For people escaping those conflicts and seeking refuge in America, it’s a big adjustment. Dr. Allana Krolikowski is a family physician and Chief Quality Officer at the Jericho Road Community Health Center in Buffalo, New York. It’s a highly regarded facility, known for its unique approach to working with people and families who’ve been displaced due to conflict and instability in their home countries.
Dr. Krolikowski volunteered with Seed Global Health in Malawi from 2014-2015, to teach and train medical professionals with the goal of building capacity for long-term sustainability.
She spoke with Seed ahead of World Refugee Day to reflect on her time as a volunteer, and the work she does now with refugee families in Buffalo.
Why did you seek out the opportunity with Seed Global Health?
I was at a conference and came across the program with Seed Global Health. I like teaching, and had spent time in Tanzania and Ghana. I wanted the opportunity to go back and work in Africa, to learn and to teach there as a way to help with building the workforce. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot about delivering care in a culturally sensitive way.
How did you come to work with refugee families?
When I was an undergrad, I read a news article about the then Jericho Road Family Practice and their focus on underserved care, including care for refugees. I decided to reach out to them, and I did an internship there in 2005. After medical school, and my time with Seed in Malawi, I still felt a deep connection to Jericho Road. I knew I wanted to go back to work there and continue to work with an underserved population, including many refugees and their families.
What’s different about your work with refugee families?
As a family physician, I’m able to work with all kinds of people – children, adolescents, pregnant women, and the elderly, from different backgrounds and economic circumstances. One of the challenges of working with refugee and immigrant patients is the language barrier, but we provide in-person interpreters, which is the best way to take care of patients. I use interpreters for about 60 percent of the patients I see. We also have to remember that refugees have experienced trauma of all kinds. They often don’t want to talk about the hardships they’ve faced. It affects them in so many ways, yet they have hope that life can and will get better for them.
What would you tell others about your work with refugee patients?
Every family’s situation and circumstances is so different. One family came to me having come to Buffalo from Syria. A mom, dad and little children. Shortly after, a family member outside the U.S. fell ill. If people who have refugee status leave the U.S., they can’t come back, but the mother went anyway, then couldn’t get back to Buffalo for immigration reasons. The dad had to take care of the children. I just learned that the mom was killed in a bombing in Syria earlier this year. Now the dad is a widower, and the little children can’t understand why their mom can’t come home. Another man I met, when I asked him how he got here, he traveled through many countries by bus or by foot, and then eventually by boat to Europe. The hardships they are escaping are significant, and they’d go through so much to get here for the life they hope to have.
What are some common misconceptions you’ve encountered?
The people I come across are hardworking and determined, and inspiring. They have so much hope and faith in the future. About 2 years ago, there was a great deal of anti-refugee sentiment. Many people were opposed to settling refugees in the community, and we had an anonymous threat at the clinic. But refugees are trying – trying to learn the language and to fit in. They can and want to work, and they work hard. Many have two jobs, sometimes more. They are so resilient, even having endured unimaginable circumstances. Life is different for them than they thought it would be, yet they are still hopeful.
How has your Seed experience impact your work now?
Working with post-graduate students in Malawi gave me a better sense of international students and their needs. My time overseas gave me a better understanding of how to work with residents and students who have studied in other countries, and the importance of teaching and training for the health workforce. It also reinforced for me the importance of culturally competent care for patients. People are people, and their needs are individual. All patients, including refugee patients, who’ve endured so much, need to be treated with dignity and respect.
World Refugee Day is June 20.