Stories of Barriers, Resiliency and Hope

Sharing stories brings all of us together. Shows the commonality among the human experience. Guides us to see past exterior presentations and preconceptions and relate on a more meaningful level.

Four local refugee and immigrant persons shared their stories at the Third Annual Roanoke Language Access Conference today.

The panel and a series of presentations and breakout sessions helped service providers relate directly to how to work in healthcare, mental health, law enforcement and other direct service industries impact people’s lives and the community.

Babikir Harane, originally from Darfur, Sudan, bravely spoke of his childhood in refugee camps. As a child and young man, he studied and went to school, but has had to start over learning English and preparing to attend college. 

He said he works each day to educate others about people still living in refugee camps, and to advocate for his wife and two-year-old son to be able to join him in the United States.

Nargis and Samim Noorzad spoke about how grateful they are for the opportunities they have received. But also about how difficult it is to start a life in a totally new culture.

They are husband and wife, who arrived in the United States from Afghanistan in September 2016. Nargis has struggled to get her credentials in healthcare transferred to her new home, but she is now working as a nurse at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

“Some of the people who are coming to a new country, they miss their family, they miss their country, and they have had trauma before,” she said. “You need to go to a counselor to deal with all that trauma.”

Samim worked with American forces to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and was resettled on a Special Immigrant Visa. He agreed with his wife, saying many people have stories to tell but may be afraid to talk to a mental health professional or ask for help.

“Most of the people don’t have the knowledge of what resources are available,” he said. “Mental health services are for anyone who wants to share their story.”

Linh T. Nghe, M.Ed discussed his experience of emigrating with his family from Vietnam as a 10-year-old. He said many people do not understand the unexpected trauma of assimilating to a new culture.

He spoke of several childhood experiences, some that affected him negatively like people acting out at him with racist slurs and actions, and some that were much more positive.

“So, I place more emphasis on the positive interactions,” he said.

Linh, a founding member of the Northern Virginia Coalition for Refugee Wellness, talked about how important it is to address adverse childhood experiences of refugees and immigrants and to build protective factors.

Each story shared today reinforced the conference theme of Building Bridges Across Cultures. The panel was moderated by Family Service of Roanoke Valley Chief Development Officer Ruth Cassell.

The day started with the presentation of the Diane Kelly Legacy Award by Del. Sam Rasoul to Vivian Sanchez-Jones (both pictured left) for her long work with refugees and immigrants in the Roanoke Valley, including her work with Commonwealth Catholic Charities and Roanoke City Public Schools.

Dr. Rebecca J. Hester (below) opened the conference with a plenary on “Rethinking our cultural and linguistic norms: the life and death consequences of our assumptions about ‘normal’ behavior in cross-cultural context.”

She said service providers and first responders especially need to examine their assumptions because assumptions about people from other countries and cultures can have life and death circumstances.

Family Service is a proud member of the Roanoke Valley Refugee Mental Health Council. Special thanks to Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services, Mental Health America Roanoke Valley, New Horizons Healthcare, and Roanoke County for also sponsoring the conference.

Thank you to everyone who volunteered, participated, and presented at the Roanoke Language Access Conference.