Immigrants help Afghan refugees start life in US

(28 Dec 2021) A California health clinic founded four decades ago to screen refugees from Southeast Asia is part of the U.S. effort to resettle tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan.
Most of the technicians, nurses and assistants at the TB and Refugee Clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California are also immigrants and refugees.
Some arrived from Vietnam after the war while others chose to migrate. They know the shock of starting over in a new country where they don't know the language.
They are eager to welcome Afghan refugees like Mohammad Attaie, 50, a radio technician who fled Kabul this summer with his wife, Deena, a journalist, and their 10-year-old daughter.
"The Taliban was about to come to the city, and I was very worried about our safety," said Mohammad Attaie said through a translator.
"I was worried that my daughter would not be able to continue her education. And I wish a bright future for her," said Deena Attaie.
The TB and refugee clinic in California's Silicon Valley joins a vast network of charities and government organizations participating in what is the largest U.S. refugee resettlement effort in decades, as the Biden administration moves to relocate nearly 100,000 people from Afghanistan by September.
The operation has been slow and chaotic, the call for a sudden ramp-up hampered in part by steep cutbacks to refugee programs under President Donald Trump.
The task is both daunting and exhilarating, says Nelda David, health center manager. The county was initially told it would receive about 200 people, but now that number is more than 800 over the current fiscal year and there's no saying when people will arrive for federally mandated medical exams, which include TB screening.
But, she says, the small staff of roughly three dozen will roll out the welcome mat at the clinic founded four decades ago specifically to assist Southeast Asians after the Vietnam War. Most of the nurses, assistants and other staff are also immigrants or refugees, and understand the shock of starting over in a new country.
"A huge majority of our staff were either immigrants or refugees themselves, and some of them have actually gone through their refugee health assessment process here in this very clinic," David said.
Tram Pham tears up remembering how hard life was at first in the U.S. As a refugee from Vietnam, she also recalls the unexpected joy when she encountered a nurse who spoke in Vietnamese to explain the lengthy health and TB screening required of new arrivals.   
Nearly three decades later, Pham hopes to pay that comfort forward as a registered nurse at the San Jose, California clinic that treated her family. The TB and Refugee Clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is screening people from Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in August.
Pham can't speak Farsi or Pashtun. But she can soothe patients stressed out over the job they can't find or the rent that's due. The other day, she held the hand of an older Afghan woman as she cried out her fears.    
"I can see patients from all over the world come in. I see, you know, Vietnamese patients. I see a lot of refugee patients," Pham said, wiping her eyes. "I see myself."    
Medical interpreter Jahannaz Afshar welcomes Farsi speakers at the front door even before they check in for their first visit. In a windowless office, she lays out what they will do as part of the medical exam required by the federal government. She'll explain the convoluted U.S. health care system and share tips on how to find a primary care doctor.

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