From Global to Local: Working with a Global population in Tucson

by Andrea Wheeler, MPH – Family & Child Health – Global Health track

In December 2014, I was a second year MPH student searching for an internship. I decided to casually peruse the International Rescue Committee (IRC) website to explore their internship opportunities after hearing about positive internship experiences from friends. Thankfully, I found one listed! The position was for a graduate student to assist with the implementation of two programs, a Well-Being Promotion Program utilizing refugee community health workers, and the second was with the Survivors of Torture program. The Well-Being Promotion Program began six years ago as an internship project by a UA MPH student. I accepted the internship opportunity approximately a week after submitting my application and interviewing for the position. Throughout high school and undergrad, I had a few experiences volunteering with refugees, but I didn’t know much about the process of resettlement or what the IRC did.

IRC logo

The IRC is a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian assistance around the world including emergency response, healthcare, governance, research and advocacy. In addition, the IRC in the United States provides critical services to newly arrived refugees such as employment assistance through job readiness training, cultural orientation, housing assistance, nutrition, and more. The IRC has several offices across the United States and each office provides varying services. The IRC in Tucson provides resettlement assistance, economic empowerment (employment and job readiness training), community integration, health and wellness, and low-cost immigration services. Below is a chart from the Arizona Department of Health Services (2015) which depicts Arizona refugee countries of origin.

IRC chart

I worked with female health promoters who initially arrived in the United States as refugees, but have transitioned to successfully resettle in Tucson. The women served as promoters to their specific communities (Somali, Iraqi, and Congolese). The experience gave me a greater understanding of the value and importance of community health workers. I was able to see classroom content in the real world. I saw firsthand how community health workers have more insight to their respective communities, as the women had a way of communicating information in a different way than outsiders.

IRC human

Children enrolled in the Well-Being Promotion Program received books, thanks to donations from the organization First Book.

I was able to apply my skills in Family and Child Health, Global Health. I was sadly able to see firsthand some of the barriers refugees face in accessing healthcare. My internship experience exposed me to a variety of important community partnerships that are actively participating in public health work such as the Tucson Postpartum Depression Coalition and the Pima County Immigrant Victims of Violence Task Force. The Task Force is actually through the State Office of Rural Health, which is housed in the College of Public Health!  As with life, my internship had its challenges and successes. For example, sometimes clients wouldn’t show up to appointments, and some pieces of data went missing. Overall, I am thankful for the opportunity to have interned at the IRC, as it exposed me to what Public Health looks like outside of the classroom.

IRC andrea

Andrea Wheeler at the MPH Internship Conference last Friday, Nov. 20th

Finally, my internship led me into a part-time research position! You never know where an internship opportunity will take you. I can’t promise that your internship experience will lead to a job, but if you enjoy your internship, make it known to the staff. You may have to endure some challenging times and struggle to learn all that is needed, but it’s likely that your efforts will be recognized.

To learn more about volunteering or interning at the IRC in Tucson, you can check out their website.

Additional note: There has recently been an increasing amount of media attention surrounding the topic of refugees. If you want a simplified explanation of the refugee crisis happening in Europe, you can watch this helpful video: https://youtu.be/RvOnXh3NN9w . There has also been an important shift in the sentiment regarding refugee resettlement in the U.S.- 26 state governors have signed a petition to halt refugee resettlement. On November 16th, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued a statement calling to halt all refugees from resettling in Arizona (http://azgovernor.gov/governor/news/2015/11/statement-governor-doug-ducey). I encourage you to research both perspectives and come to your own conclusion. One aspect of Public Health is Advocacy.  If you disagree with the Governor’s proposal you can advocate for your perspective, that refugees should be welcome in Arizona by signing a petition here: http://cqrcengage.com/theirc/app/write-a-letter?0&engagementId=146418 The petition will be sent to the following recipients: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ). The topic and process of resettlement is more complex than what can fit in this blog post.
The opinions expressed in this piece/on this blog are my own and do not represent the views of the International Rescue Committee or The University of Arizona
References
-Arizona Department of Health Services. (2015). Refugee health, domestic preventive health screening program.   Retrieved from http://www.azdhs.gov/phs/edc/odis/refugee/index.php
-International Rescue Committee. (2014). The IRC’s work. Retrieved from http://www.rescue.org/our-work
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