There are at least 200 people packed into this room on campus discussing how to help the refugees who come to this country.
Dr. Sophia Banu is a Tibetan refugee herself who started the Clinic for International Trauma Survivors here in Houston. She tells the story of an Iraqi man who fled to the U.S. after trying to help his neighbors escape their village.
“Whoever was targeting that particular family found them and actually gunned them down in the car and he was shot and to this date he still has a bullet in his back … “
In the end, he managed to help about half of that family escape. But for Dr. Banu, the most remarkable thing about this man is what he’s done since he came to Houston.
“His kindness, his compassion, his resilience … he’s been through so much and still here he is trying to help.”
When he first arrived, he went to a medical clinic and saw a young mother with her child leave the line in tears. It turns out she couldn’t pay the small fee she needed to get medical care for her and her daughter.
“This man had just arrived … he had no possessions on his back … he gave her 50$ and said go and see the doctor … “
But even this kind of generosity often isn’t enough. Along with medical care, many refugees are in need of mental health treatment for trauma, loss, culture shock, and as in the case of this Iraqi man, severe PTSD. This kind of care can be harder to come by, and Sophia Banu is trying to make it more widely available.
“A colleague of mine and I we are actually doing some training for case managers to identify people who have problems, because I heard that the case managers who are in contact with the refugees, they don’t have any mental health training.”
When refugees do receive the help they need, the effect can be deeply rewarding.
Claudia Kolker, author of “The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn From Newcomers to America,” has her own favorite story. She interviewed a woman who fled Vietnam with her family years ago. A couple in New Orleans gave her shelter and helped her find her feet.
“A few years ago she got a phone call and it was just after Hurricane Katrina and the couple called and they said we’re homeless … could you shelter us and she said of course and they came and stayed with her.”
And if most of us just don’t have the resources to help house refugees, Dr. Banu maintains it’s the smallest things that can help people who’ve been through so much.
“Most of the refugees need a little bit of help and that goes a long way … Sometimes just listening … to their story, that in itself gives them a lot of strength.”
This story was written by Adrienne Fisher and voiced by Laurie Johnson.