Cultural Competence: Refugees and Trauma

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By Kathryn Samonas, Wheelock College Student Ambassador

Alexandra Weber, Saida Abdi and James Lavelle opened up the panel with their experience with working with refugees from various places around the world that have come to the Boston area. Each of them have done commendable work to help refugees transition to life here in the US as well as respond to any adversities they may have encountered here.refugees and trauma

After hearing their remarkable stories and accomplishments, they opened up the discussion to the audience filled with early childhood and ESL teachers, counselors, practitioners, students and even a few refugees. The discussion became greater from here while many people discussed their work, struggles, and gave advice to each on cultural competence when working with refugees, particularly with their trauma.

Saida Abdi lead the discussion with funny stories and pieces of advice that can applied to many peoples work. I took her advice to not only see the need to be culturally competent but use cultural humanity when approaching work with refugees. She taught us that it is important to develop strategies of how to work with people that are different then you by asking and not assuming you understand their position. She encouraged us to ask refugees in need “Can you help me understand what this situation looks like in your culture?” instead of assuming it is the same as what you know.

Lastly, Saida encouraged us to create spaces where having differences is beautiful and accepted and bring people together to show that differences, really are not that different.

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  1. I was very struck by panelist Saida Abdi’s recommendation to ask refugees “Can you help me understand what this situation looks like in your culture?” Rather than making the assumption that their experiences and reactions would be identical to what would be expected in your culture. It is difficult to step outside of our own frame of reference, however broad, especially when working with traumatized individuals, when one’s own automatic visceral emotional response to even hearing about their trauma is often, understandably, so strong. Yet being of assistance in an optimally effective way most often requires both an understanding of the other person’s personal and cultural experience, as well as gaining some mastery over our own responses. Thank you Saida Abdi! – Perry Belfer/ Director, N-W Eating Disorders.