UNIITE - Understanding the Need for
Interfaith / Intercultural Togetherness & Education

Program examines culture, health


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By Kelly Smith,


They want to make a difference for immigrants. One way they're doing so is by bridging the gap between health care professionals and the immigrant families they serve.

This month the group UNIITE is the host for three events that are part of a seven-month series on health care and world religions. The program "Somali Muslims and Health Care" will be from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Cloud Hospital.

"We are trying to mind the gap in the case of health care," UNIITE Executive Director Malcolm Nazareth said. "Health care is a major problem. This is really getting to the root of the issues."

Nazareth said immigrants often are hesitant to seek health care because they struggle to communicate with health care professionals.

"I know some people of certain ethnic groups that will never ever step in a hospital," he said.

The programs Nazareth's organization is hosting aim to help educate professionals and immigrants about health care.

Interactive program

Tuesday's program "Somali Muslims and Health Care" isn't a typical informational program.

Hani Jacobson, a medical interpreter, will present a role-playing session meant to share her experiences as an immigrant and as one who works with immigrants.

"She's going to give a face to this group," Nazareth said. "She has seen a lot of patients ... struggle with the system."

The program is intended for health care professionals and community leaders, though it's open to anyone.

"Our goal is to make the health care professionals aware of the ... barriers this group of Somali Muslims face," Nazareth said.

People can make a difference once they understand patients' cultural backgrounds, he said. Learning about a certain group's cultural and religious backgrounds can better prepare professionals to help them.

But he also encourages student involvement. St. Cloud State University students are involved with this month's events.

And the Cultural Healing Festival on Nov. 11 is co-sponsored by the Nepalese Student Association. The group's president, Rapan Upreti, said students should attend.

"They can understand things better about these cultures," Upreti said.

Nazareth agreed that younger generations can make a difference.

"They are already in the culture so they understand what we're trying to do," he said.

A critical issue

UNIITE is dedicating seven months and several programs to the health care issue for a reason.

In 2001 and 2002, there was a huge influx of Somalis to the area, Nazareth said.

"A major chunk of the St. Cloud population is Somalis."

Likewise, the Hmong population has increased greatly in the Twin Cities.

"(These two groups) are significant in numbers and are struggling with health care," Nazareth said.

But he hopes these programs will change that and help make a difference.

Copyright 2006 St. Cloud Times

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