This year’s event focuses on whole health for New American and refugee youth
By the University at Buffalo
The eighth annual Western New York New American and Refugee Health Summit, happening next month at the University at Buffalo, will highlight the spirit of youth who arrived as refugees and the challenges they face in their new homes.
The summit is free and open to the public, and will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 10 in the Active Learning Center, located on the first floor of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, 955 Main St., Buffalo. Registration closes Aug. 31.
This year’s summit is titled “Moving Towards Whole Health for New American and Refugee Youth.” The event will address challenges and responses to a variety of issues that youth face, including mental health challenges, cultural barriers between older and younger generations, difficulty navigating higher education, and accessing culturally appropriate care.
“The Refugee Health Summit tries to build a platform to bring health care providers, refugee community members, social workers, politicians and researchers together to identify key challenges and promote the whole health of this population,” says Lina Mu, Ph.D., M.D., director of the Office of Global Health Initiatives and an associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Having fled war and persecution, Buffalo’s refugee population is revitalizing and diversifying the city, yet challenges remain for both Buffalo and its newest residents. In this context, youth face unique challenges as they navigate different cultures and environments, growing up in a different society from their parents.
A whole-person approach to health for refugee youth addresses more than physical health, extending to mental health, education, employment, societal engagement, and more. A variety of programs exist in Buffalo to support refugee youth, which will be highlighted at this year’s summit.
“The summit provides a great opportunity to learn about refugees’ unique health care needs, and to also share and exchange their experiences among service providers,” says Steven Sanyu, who grew up in Burma (now known as Myanmar), fled to Thailand as a political refugee, and later resettled in Buffalo – where he has been active in a number of refugee organizations.
The summit unites clinicians, resettlement representatives, community health workers, researchers, students, municipal leaders and refugees to highlight innovative university-community partnerships that have resulted in research, programming and solutions to improve health and wellbeing for refugees living in Buffalo and Western New York.
“The refugee population faces tremendous mental health challenges, which are especially concerning among youth refugees,” Mu said, noting the summit will feature a special panel to address these issues.
Dilli Gautam, a former refugee from Bhutan who immigrated to the U.S. in 2008, is this year’s keynote speaker. Gautam serves as the president of the Bhutanese Community of Michigan, a nonprofit organization that was started by and continues to be operated by resettled Bhutanese refugees. He also serves as associate director of community engagement at Bethany Christian Services, a resettlement agency based in Grand Rapids.
He has an extensive background working with refugee and immigrant communities, leaders and local elected officials, and is passionate about building the capacity of refugee-focused organizations and new American leaders. In an effort to increase former refugees in leadership positions, Gautam helps to better equip and connect them to not only achieve their personal success, but contribute to the greater community.
He believes that one of the best ways for the meaningful integration of refugees and immigrants into society is by changing the policies, practices and mindset from helping refugees and immigrants to empowering them.
Summit panels will focus on New American contributions to the workforce, a cultural humility training for health care providers, and a youth-designed session. They’ll be followed by a workshop to identify actionable changes in Buffalo and Western New York.
The WNY New American and Refugee Health Summit is co-sponsored and organized by UB’s Community for Global Health Equity, the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Public Health and Health Professions’ Office of Global Health Initiatives, Providence Farm Collective, Grassroots Gardens of Western New York, HEAL International, Burmese Community Services the Karen Society of Buffalo, the Human Rights Initiative at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and the Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute at the School of Social Work.