Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Volunteering in the USA

Multicultural women health fair September 2011

Fulbright was a life changing experience for me on many levels, from the most basic aspects of life, to discovering new prospects for the future. While in the United States, I became an independent person who knows how to cook and who can take care of herself--a person who appreciates different values in this life. Volunteer work is one of these new things that I’ve come to appreciate the most. At first I didn’t have the realization of how self-satisfying this could be, but I ended up spending most of the past two years volunteering for refugee services while on my Fulbright.

It all started when I received an email from my program adviser in September 2011 (only a month after my arrival to U.S) about an annual multicultural women’s health fair where there were two lectures about women’s health followed by health screening booths and a lunch for the refugee women. I volunteered as an Arabic interpreter initially, but after the lectures were over, the health screening booths needed more volunteers because of the high number of ladies in line, so I volunteered to help with blood pressure, glucose level measurements, and counseling. It was a wonderful experience that I repeated  in 2012.

I also volunteered with another organization that has an annual dinner event for homeless shelters, where they prepare and serve dinner for about 500 homeless people. I participated in that in 2012 and 2013. Most of my volunteer time though, was  spent with a nonprofit organization called Utah Health and Human Rights (UHHR), which deals with refugees who survived torture. Most of their clients are Iraqis and Africans. I volunteered to modify the Harvard Program for Refugee Trauma (HPRT) that has been developed by another Fulbrighter, Richard Mollica, from Italy,  for Cambodian refugees, to be culturally adapted for Iraqi refugees. I modified and administered the program, and have been volunteering with UHHR for the past two years. I enjoyed every moment with them, and learned how important the feeling that you get when you create a smile on the face of a refugee who has faced death or near death, and how their life has changed partly because of your help!

Some of the ladies who participated in UHHR's first wellness group during their graduation ceremony April 2013

Finally, I would say that as much as the Fulbright experience has changed me so far, it has also equipped me with the tools to create change and a better world for others, and to put a smile on the face of those I meet. I know that this is just the start for me.

Hiking to Ensign's Peak...on the background: Salt Lake City downtown

Sarah Al-Obaydi is a Fulbright grantee from Iraq completing an MPH program in Public Health at  University of Utah.

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