AR cartoon by Jonathan Hill.
FULL CIRCLE. Clinical nurse Tram Pham becomes teary eyed remembering
how hard it was at first, adjusting to life in the U.S. as a refugee
from Vietnam, at the TB and Refugee Clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical
Center in San Jose, California, on December 9, 2021. Nearly three
decades later, Pham is paying that comfort forward as a registered nurse
at the same clinic that treated her family. The TB and Refugee Clinic at
Santa Clara Valley Medical Center has started screening people from
Afghanistan as part of the largest U.S. refugee resettlement effort in
decades. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
CREATING COMFORT. Nikie Phung, a public health assistant, talks about
her experiences as a refugee from Vietnam, at the TB and Refugee Clinic
at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, on
December 9, 2021. The staff at Silicon Valleyís decades-old refugee
health clinic may not all speak the language of the Afghan refugees
starting new lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they know the
anxiety and stress of newcomers who fled war and chaos to end up in a
country where they donít speak the language and everything is different.
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
IMMIGRANTS WELCOMING IMMIGRANTS. Mohammad Attaie and his wife Deena,
newly arrived from Afghanistan, look over ornaments on a Christmas tree
TB and Refugee Clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose,
California, on December 9, 2021. The staff at the Silicon Valleyís
decades-old refugee health clinic may not all speak the language of the
Afghan refugees starting new lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but
they know the anxiety and stress of newcomers who fled war and chaos to
end up in a country where they donít speak the language and everything
is different. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
From The Asian Reporter, V32, #1 (January 3, 2022), page 12.
Immigrants welcome Afghan refugees, inspired by own
By Janie Har
The Associated Press
SAN JOSE, Calif. ó Tram Pham tears up recalling how tough life was at
first in the U.S. But she also remembers the joy she felt as a
22-year-old refugee from Vietnam when a nurse spoke to her in her native
language and guided her through a medical screening required of new
Nearly three decades later, Pham hopes to pay that comfort forward as
a registered nurse at the same San Jose, California, clinic that treated
her family. The TB and Refugee Clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical
Center is screening people from Afghanistan who began seeking asylum in
the U.S. after American troops withdrew from the country in August.
Pham canít speak Farsi or Pashto. But she can soothe patients
stressed out over the job they canít find or the rent thatís due. The
other day, she held the hand of an older Afghan woman as she cried out
"I can see patients from all over the world come in. I see, you know,
Vietnamese patients. I see a lot of refugee patients," she said. "I see
The TB and Refugee Clinic joins a vast network of charities and
government organizations tasked with carrying out President Joe Bidenís
plan to relocate nearly 100,000 people from Afghanistan by September
2022. Nearly 48,000 Afghans have already moved off U.S. military bases
and settled in new communities, the U.S. Department of State said in an
e-mail, including more than 4,000 in California.
The operation has been hampered by the need to scale up quickly after
steep cutbacks to refugee programs under President Donald Trump. But the
community response has been overwhelming and enthusiastic, said Krish
OíMara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee
Service, one of nine national resettlement agencies.
"We know that resettlement isnít a weekslong or monthslong process.
Success requires years of effort. And so thatís where itís really
important to have strong community ties," Vignarajah said.
The nonprofit, which operates in at least two dozen states, has
resettled roughly 6,000 newly arrived Afghans since summer, including
1,400 in northern Virginia, 350 in Texas, 275 in Washington and Oregon,
and 25 in Fargo, North Dakota.
The state of Oklahoma has received about half of the 1,800 people it
was told to expect, said Carly Akard, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities
of Oklahoma City. Akard said that in their rush to escape, many of the
refugees arrived without identification.
"They fled and didnít have anything," she said.
In San Jose, the clinic is scrambling to hire more people and
reallocate staff for the more than 800 people expected in the county
through September. Not only is the number a large increase from the 100
people the clinic assessed in all of the last fiscal year, it is
uncertain when they will arrive, said health center manager Nelda David.
But David said that wonít stop the staff of roughly three dozen from
rolling 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 immigrants or former
refugees themselves, and understand the shock of starting over in a new
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 explains what to expect over at least four visits
as part of a comprehensive health assessment, which includes updating
immunizations and checking for infectious diseases. A medical exam is
required of all refugees.
But Afshar, who moved from Iran in 2004, also explains cultural
differences, such as the American preference for personal space and
chitchat. Sheíll tell newcomers how to take the bus or use the public
library, and reassure them that in the U.S., people help without
expectation of getting anything in return.
Most staff members are bilingual, and come from a number of
countries, including China, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, and Mexico, said
Mylene Madrid, who coordinates the refugee health assessment program.
But staff can help even without speaking the same language.
An Afghan woman was tense and nervous when she arrived the other day
for her first medical exam. By the end of the hourslong visit, however,
she was cracking jokes and sharing photos with public health assistant
Nikie Phung, who had fled Vietnam decades earlier with her family.
Another new arrival from Afghanistan dropped by the clinic
complaining of chest pains but was so anxious she couldnít elaborate on
her symptoms. Pham, the nurse, asked if she could hold her hand. They
sat as the woman sobbed, then finally spoke of the stress of having her
entire family living in a cramped hotel room.
By then, her pains had receded. Pham noticed that the womanís
daughter and son-in-law were upbeat and more comfortable speaking
English. She pulled the daughter aside.
"Would you please spend time with your mom?" she asked her. "Talk to
Staff members have gone out of their way to connect patients to jobs,
furnish empty apartments, and tap the broader community for rent and
other relief. Theyíve stocked diapers for babies and handed out gift
baskets at Thanksgiving. During a routine visit, a patient mentioned he
needed car repairs for work. Within weeks, the clinic had raised $2,000
to give him.
"Your heart is different," says Jaspinder Mann, an assistant nurse
manager originally from India, of immigrantsí desire to help.
Afshar says she canít imagine what refugees are going through. The
former apparel designer and her husband were not fleeing strife and
shootings when they chose to leave Iran. And yet, she too struggled at
"And this is one of the things that I always share," she said. "That
even though itís going to be hard, later youíre going to be happy
because ... youíre going to learn so much and youíre going to grow so
At the clinic, she hops on the phone to arrange an eye exam for
Mohammad Attaie, 50, a radio technician who fled the capital of
Afghanistan, Kabul, this summer with his wife, Deena, a journalist, and
their daughter. Sana, 10, adores her new school in San Jose but the
couple worry about finding work when they canít speak the language.
Still, seeing people like Afshar and Pham gives them confidence.
"They are successful. Theyíre working here. Their language skills are
good. I am hoping that in less than a year I can stand on my feet,"
Deena Attaie said, speaking in Farsi.
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