Over the past year, The Health Collaborative (THC) has had the privilege of working closely with the Afghan refugee community of San Antonio, TX. Through our work in organizing and participating in pop-up vaccine clinics, it became apparent that there was a significant gap in healthcare access and health literacy education for this growing patient population; San Antonio ranks fourth in the country in terms of the number of Afghans resettled after the fall of their government in 2021. We set out to form a relationship with this community, learn more about their needs, and eventually set in place multiple projects to help mitigate some of the unique challenges they currently face.
COVID-19 Response Team member and Community Health Worker (CHW), Sher Azeem, has
been instrumental in our efforts to foster a relationship and learn more about the barriers Afghan families in San Antonio must overcome on a regular basis when accessing healthcare. Among the most common difficulties Afghan refugees face is a language barrier - many of them have been living in the United States for less than a year, which has not given them adequate time to learn English. Due to his fluency in Pashto language, Sher was able to quickly connect with the community. Furthermore, while originally from Pakistan, he is part of the same Pashtun ethnic group as many of the Afghans currently in San Antonio - lending him the ability to connect on a cultural level.
The COVID-19 Response Team of THC began to brainstorm different ways to help, and began developing numerous COVID-19 resources in Pashto to share up-to-date culturally relevant information concerning the pandemic.
As we continued to become acquainted with families in the community, the concern of transportation to clinics and/or doctors appointments was noted. The team decided to begin organizing vaccine clinics near the resettlement communities in trusted and culturally familiar locations such as the Islamic Center of San Antonio, Muslim Children’s Education Center, resettlement apartment complexes, and the Center for Refugee Services. These clinics were extremely successful – leading to 618 COVID-19 vaccines administered, all while reinforcing their trust in the healthcare system and vaccines in general. These events were only possible with the continued support of our partners Lela Pharmacy, UIW School of Nursing, El Bari Health Center, and Razakaar Foundation.
While working with the families, the team has gotten to know several fathers who are interested in learning more about how the healthcare system in San Antonio can help them and their families. This interest led us to start a “Fathers x Fathers” health discussion group – aiming to give a space for Afghan men to discuss their concerns, improve their health literacy, and form a community of parents that can continue to support one another while adjusting to life in a new country. We referenced and built upon the University of Minnesota’s National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants, and Migrants discussion group model to customize a curriculum that pertains to their concerns.
The pilot discussion group took place at Baba Wali – an Afghan owned and run restaurant. The owner, Mr. Ajmal Zazai, was excited to give back to the community and help in any way possible. The group consisted of ten fathers that all wished to learn more about how to navigate the healthcare system in the United States and converse about some of their experiences - both good and bad. The conversation flowed freely, individuals asked questions ranging from when to go to the emergency room vs an urgent care clinic to what is a normal wait time for a doctor's appointment. Sher guided the conversation, opening the floor to discuss how their experiences here differ from those in Afghanistan and how they plan to adapt to their new environment.
A point of conversation arose regarding how local Hispanic/Latino culture and values align closely with Afghan culture. "We're very similar... we both have strong family values and traditions" shared Community Health Worker, Ernest Baca.
The event was covered by local news stations which granted Afghan community leaders the opportunity to raise awareness for certain struggles their community faces and how they hope to address and better their circumstances.