Cultural Brokers & Collaboration: Welcoming the Somali Community at VOC 2018

By Oanh Thi Thu Bui, Vietnamese Outreach Specialist

Oanh Bui and Asha Abdullah at Visions of CommunityThe Visions of Community conference (VOC) brought together families from multiple cultures to share in a day of learning and support. Working with families from the Vietnamese, Arabic, Haitian, and Somali communities, a colleague wondered, “You don’t speak Somali and Arabic; how could you facilitate those groups?”

“Understanding the importance of providing culturally relevant or culturally sensitive support, one can find ways to promote authentic collaboration and mutual partnership with the targeted communities,” I responded with a smile. The method is simple: Connect with community leaders – cultural brokers who understand the community’s needs, what it takes to address those needs, and who should get involved. Then, our team creates and executes a concrete plan.

Asha Abdullah is a Diversity Fellow from the LEND program at Boston Children’s Hospital and a Somali refugee working with the Somali Development Center (SDC) in Boston. Asha said, “I am interested in increasing awareness, knowledge, and understanding of Intellectual Developmental Disability in the Somali community and facilitating access to early intervention services. Personally, as a family advocate, I am passionate about normalizing mental illness and educating my community about culturally sensitive mental health services in an effort to decrease the fear and stigma that surrounds it.” Therefore, she wanted to ensure that her community was present at VOC.

Here are a few of the steps we took to include our friends from the Somali community:

  • Collaborated on topics of interest.
  • Invited presenters based on community needs.
  • Reviewed materials for cultural and linguistic relevance.
  • Connected with a qualified interpreter who was familiar with disability-specific language, as certain concepts and vocabulary don’t have direct translations.
  • Conversed with presenters and an interpreter to discuss different cultural values.
  • Coordinated participant registration (including accommodations such as childcare, transportation and interpretation services).
  • Shared details with participants about what to expect at the conference.
  • Thanked our attendees and provided an opportunity for feedback

Somali women at Visions of CommunityWe held workshops for parents and professionals on the topics of sibling support and post-diagnosis steps. Participants’ feedback was gratifying. “I am overwhelmed with the rich wealth of resources that I was not aware of,” said one participant. Asha told us, “The panel We’ve got the Diagnosis and the Recommendations, Now What? was eye-opening. This information was not widely known in my community due to language and cultural barriers. The challenges that my community faces place us at a disadvantage in receiving mental health and disability services. I feel this panel opened many doors for us, while increasing my confidence as a community case worker. As a result, I hope it will allow me to connect families of children with special needs to the appropriate services to have a better life.”

Laughter among participants warmed my heart, knowing that I was once one of them. Tears fell as I considered that many parents had just one day to learn and network.

Collectively, we can become catalysts for systems change.