Throughout the world, women gather together to share in conversation, grief, and celebration. Whether it’s a group of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming together over song or a group of women in the US sharing in a cup of tea; the feeling is the same. The feeling is one of solidarity and belonging. There is no doubt that the simple act of coming together as women can make a resounding impact on one’s life and the larger community.
Recognizing this phenomenon, CWS-Durham recently launched the Global Women’s Health and Wellness Group. The aim of the group is to give women refugees a safe space to feel heard, supported, and part of the community. The group also strives to empower refugee women to navigate the medical system in North Carolina, cultivate awareness about mental health and coping mechanisms, and to link women with various groups and resources in the community.
Why focus on mental health, medical health, and social integration? Refugee women are often at greater risk of isolation and depression when they arrive in the United States. Many women are expected to stay at home to care for children or may have limited education and English language ability, creating barriers to accessing employment and social supports in the community. Often, refugee women have witnessed violence and experienced traumatic events in their home countries. Additionally, coming to a new country with little knowledge of the language or culture can feel daunting and present new stressors. With all of this in mind, it is easy to see why a refugee woman first arriving in the US would feel lonely, anxious, and unsure of how to access medical and mental health services. This new group hopes to lift some of the burden by providing a safe space for women to ask questions, feel a sense of belonging, and gain the tools needed to become active members of their new community.
Although refugee women have undergone many challenges, they should not be seen as victims. Instead, they are resilient survivors. Each day, I am in awe of the vitality and strength of the women that I work with. On our first Global Women’s Group day, I was struck by how quickly laughter and conversation filled the room. The women who did not know one another introduced themselves with ease. Regardless of where each woman was from, it was easy to find much in common. In order for women to feel ownership over the group, we asked what they would like to take away from the group. The women were far from shy in voicing their desires; many expressing questions about Medicaid and free medical care services, requesting that we have outings to local parks and museums in order for them to get to know the area, and asking about local sewing groups in the area. One woman from Iraq even offered to teach yoga classes!
During one group activity, I asked the women, “What do you do to feel healthy and happy here?”. A woman from Sudan exclaimed, “This. Being with friends. Getting out of the house. This makes me so happy.” I couldn’t agree more. There is no doubt that friendship and social interaction have a tremendous impact on mental and physical health. Although it may seem simple, never underestimate the act of getting out of the house and sharing experiences with a group of women.This simple act can invigorate an entire community. Hopefully, Global Women’s Group will do just that.
If you’d like to help provide childcare for Global Women’s Group or if you have other resources (such as sewing materials, yoga mats, art supplies, etc.) please email Jen Skees at email@example.com.