Local/State

Phila. refugee families get healthcare help

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hundreds of refugees arriving in Philadelphia are receiving help adjusting to their new home thanks to a city grant and several health providers throughout the region.

Refugee families from Iraq, Bhutan and Burma who have fled or been forced out of their homelands, go through physical health screenings before settling in the United States. But now they are being offered much needed mental health support.

A $240,000 grant from the city's Department of Behavioral Health has resulted in a mental health collaborative, organized by Jefferson University Hospital and Liberty Lutheran Family Service.

More than one hundred families have settled in Philadelphia. Many Iraqi refugees suffer from PTSD.

"Our Nepal-Bhutanese are living with a very high suicide rate," says Melissa Fogg, from Liberty Luthern Children and Family Services.

Some Burmese families were forced out by the ruling military government. The collaborative offers families traditional and alternative therapy including a Photovoice project where they are given cameras for two weeks.

"We ask them to take pictures of things that either positive or negatively affect their resettlement, and their overall feelings about Philadelphia," said Melissa Fogg.

One 19-year-old took pictures of chairs at her high school; something she didn't have in her country.

"In school, we have to sit on the floor," she said. "It's not like this. It is very uncomfortable. I took this picture to show how I like the school."

But she also photographed the trash in her neighborhood.

"I thought that before I came to the United States that the U.S. is a clean place; like no trash," she said.

"Coming to America for new refugees, it symbolizes hope and a new beginning, and a safe place, and coming here and seeing the trash, it's disillusioning, and makes their adjustment very hard," said Fogg.

The mother of a young boy and his sister died shortly after they arrived in Philadelphia.

The first year of the mental health collaborative has seen some positive results. Officials say members of the refugee community have opened up more about their values, culture and their needs.

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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