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UCLA student organizations to host health fair for local refugee communities

From Students Organize for Syria at UCLA, co-President Serene Hadaya, co-President Venus Eltaki and Vice President Aya Ghoneum (left to right) are helping to host a community health fair for refugees. (Courtesy of Aya Ghoneum)

By Susan Monaghan

April 24, 2019 11:18 p.m.

UCLA student groups will be offering physical and mental health education and consultations at a health fair for refugees in the area.

The fair, hosted by the University Muslim Medical Association Volunteer Project, the Students Organize for Syria at UCLA and the Tiyya Foundation, will be held Saturday in South Los Angeles.

Fariha Hameed, a fourth-year psychobiology student and president of UVP, said she hopes the event will serve as many people as possible.

“Especially given the policies of this administration … (refugees) honestly don’t feel welcome here, and they’re part of our community, they have nowhere else to go,” Hameed said. “That’s part of the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing, because we have a moral and ethical obligation to help our neighbors, help people in our community (who are) in need.”

Hameed said she hopes the fair will raise awareness of the health care resources available to refugees in the area through the UMMA clinic.

Aya Ghoneum, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student and vice president of the UCLA SOS chapter, said she joined the organization because she thought it was important to have an organization on campus specifically serving refugee communities.

“I’ve noticed ever since I’ve been a part of SOS that a lot of people want to help refugees, they watch the news and they hear all these horrible stories, and I think a lot of UCLA students feel kind of powerless because refugee (communities) seem removed,” Ghoneum said. “They want to be involved and they want to help them, they just don’t know how to access them.”

At the health fair, doctors, medical students and trained student volunteers will provide free blood pressure, glucose level and cholesterol readings, as well as body mass index checks.

“A lot of (refugees) don’t have access to things like that, and there’s the problem of the language barrier,” Ghoneum said. “Us as (SOS), a lot of our volunteers and board members can speak Arabic, and a lot of these refugees can only speak Arabic, so if we can bridge that language barrier – that I think will be very beneficial for them to look out for their health.”

The UCLA SOS chapter, founded last year, aids refugee communities in the Los Angeles area. Serene Hadaya, a third-year biology student and co-president of the UCLA SOS chapter, said the health fair combines the goals of both organizations to help local refugees acclimate as painlessly as possible.

“We’re going to the immediate needs of local refugees. … It’s an immediate solution for what is actually a long problem that has deeper roots,” Hadaya said.

The health fair is also meant to help many families that SOS already serves. The UCLA SOS chapter provides in-home English tutoring and hosts weekly soccer games for local refugee children.

“We want a lot of our volunteers to come out because they interact with our (refugee) families weekly, and we’re trying to get our families to also participate and go to the health fair,” Ghoneum said.

Ghoneum said there will also be mental health care professionals at the health fair, ready to give private consultations. Hameed said mental health treatment is especially important for refugees, many of whom may be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They’ve been through a tremendous amount of trauma, and often they’re from communities that kind of stigmatize mental health issues,” Ghoneum said. “Having those professionals, and having that outlet … available to them will be very helpful in the long run for them.”

The fair, which is designed to provide in-person support for local refugees, can be a valuable volunteering opportunity for students who have been frustrated about their inability to directly help displaced refugees, Ghoneum said.

“Don’t forget about the refugee community, because they’re here now and life can be very difficult for them,” Ghoneum said. “There are definitely avenues for you to help them – it doesn’t have to seem like a far away problem, because they’re our neighbors.”

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Susan Monaghan
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