December 16, 2020
Article by Robert Carroll
In this month’s feature, read how an immigrant from Sierra Leone is now using her skill as a nurse, and her compassion for people in need, to help a refugee woman with her years-long health crisis. The name of the patient has been changed for privacy reasons.
Life as an Immigrant and Nurse
World Relief Volunteer Health Advocate, Angela Jalloh, knows firsthand the importance of providing compassionate assistance to refugees and immigrants in need, especially when that need is health related. She knows this because Angela is both a Registered Nurse and an immigrant.
Twenty years ago, Angela, her husband, and their three young children left their home in the west African country of Sierra Leone to start a new life in the United States. The family settled in Chicago and soon made the city their home. Angela enrolled and graduated from all her post-secondary schooling while living in the U.S. and has been working as a nurse for fourteen years. She is currently employed at The Admiral at the Lake, a senior living community on Chicago’s North Side. Her three children are now grown, and her son is currently serving in the United States Marine Corp.
“It’s a never-ending thank you,” she adds, referencing her work as a nurse and her son’s military service. “It’s a constant feeling of wanting to give back.”
Angela explains how being welcomed into the country as immigrants back in the year 2000 has instilled a deep sense of gratitude in the heart of her and her family, and how they have committed themselves since to helping others in the same way they were helped.
That commitment to helping others is what ultimately led her to World Relief.
Call to Action
Just this year, after giving a presentation on healthcare careers for immigrants, Angela was introduced to World Relief Chicagoland staff members who believed she would be a perfect Volunteer Health Advocate for newly resettled refugees and immigrants. World Relief Volunteer Health Advocates are matched with an immigrant or refugee in need of health assistance and someone who can walk with them on their health journey. As both an immigrant and a medical professional, Angela was a perfect fit.
“I was so humbled,” Angela remembers. “I was so happy when World Relief reached out to me [to become a Health Advocate]. I saw it as an opportunity to do the right thing.”
“The good World Relief does is endless. They have changed the lives of so many people that are going through so much transition in their lives. The employees are so dedicated, and so caring, and they really want to make the world a better place. It just touched my heart [when she was asked to help]. I have been given so much opportunity here [in the U.S.].”
Life as a New Volunteer
After enrolling as a Volunteer Health Advocate with World Relief, Angela was quickly matched with a woman refugee named Aisha who had been struggling with health problems for many years, and who had to this point, been unable to receive the care she needed. Aisha had seen many doctors in the past, but she doesn’t speak English and the best she could hope for was a translator who would directly translate her concerns to the attending physician. Unfortunately, this left much to be desired. As anyone who has visited a doctor knows, properly diagnosing a health problem is more complicated and takes more nuanced communication than a simple translation of symptoms allows. Especially when the symptoms are being described by a patient who is already confused and disoriented by the process, as well as the terminology used by a doctor when attempting to diagnose.
According to Angela, what ended up happening in Aisha’s case is that she was being treated based mostly on assumption. This is not meant to be an indictment of Aisha’s care, but rather an insight into the problems that arise when an immigrant patient is not given the proper support during a health crisis.
As Aisha’s new Volunteer Health Advocate, Angela worked hard to help her overcome the obstacles that stood in the way of a proper diagnosis. Angela does not speak the same language as Aisha, and since Aisha does not speak English, there is no way the two can communicate without an interpreter. But Angela’s willingness to connect on a level beyond words is what has made all the difference in the world.
Angela accompanies Aisha to all her doctor appointments, and even though she must speak through an interpreter when communicating between doctor and patient, her ability to translate the information being exchanged into a usable framework is what finally cracked the code.
“I am there to help the patient comprehend,” Angela explains. “Once she was able to comprehend what was being said, the doctor was able to explain things that the patient wasn’t even aware of.”
Angela is speaking, of course, to the subtext that exists in all conversations, but that can carry extra importance when attempting to diagnose and treat a health condition. Aisha would hear a translation of what the doctor was saying, but without comprehension, she would not know how to answer, or would not answer properly, or would not understand the next steps in the treatment plan and become even more confused.
“The biggest challenge was not being able to explain herself,” Angela says. “There were all these preconceived notions from the doctors. I told them that I didn’t want judgement. I wanted to bridge the gap. How do you care for someone without thinking about who they are or where they come from?”
Angela is still very much on the journey with Aisha, but now with Angela’s help, Aisha is getting very close to a firm diagnosis and a proper treatment plan. Besides accompanying Aisha to her appointments, Angela also helps her schedule visits with specialists and navigate the health insurance system so that Aisha doesn’t become discouraged by the complexities of the U.S. healthcare system. This way, Aisha can just focus on getting better.
“It means so much to me every time I’m around her [Aisha],” Angela says. “I’m so happy every time we make a positive step. The feeling is hard to describe, really. It’s just such a great feeling to have a positive impact on someone else’s life. In my mind, it’s what we should all be doing. We should all care for each other. I wish I could do more. I just want to fix all the problems, but I know that everything takes time. But we’ll get there. We’ll get there.”
How You Can Help
When asked how others can help, Angela replied, “I just ask them from the bottom of my heart to do more. It doesn’t matter what your strengths are. Just reach out to someone. Everybody needs help. Everyone needs someone to help you along, to believe in you, and to listen to you as a person so that you may reach your full potential. Without a good foundation, it’s hard to succeed.
“There’s so much we can do to help others, and it doesn’t have to be a lot. Whatever you can do will make a difference. Every good act opens a door for a person. Helping a person when they are at their lowest helps lift them up to their highest point of potential where they can fully look back at themselves and be content.”
Learn more about how you can volunteer with World Relief, and how you too can make a difference in the life of a refugee or immigrant.
This article was written by Robert Carroll, Communications Manager for World Relief.
To contact the author, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.