Sapna NYC and local South Asian medical students, healthcare providers, and community organizations came together to hold a day of workshops for recently immigrated Bangladeshi families at Castle Hill Middle School on May 13th. Thank you to the community groups, healthcare providers, students, and school administration and staff for making this event possible.
Arms shot up in the air before the Immigrant Rights instructor from DRUM could even finish explaining their upcoming summer internship opportunity for South Asian youth. Just moments earlier, some of the middle-school girls had been teasing each other about their “kuch kuch hota hai feelings” during the Changes in Adolescence workshop, which had been facilitated by Ms. Ema Eyasmin, a bilingual Youth Educator from Planned Parenthood of NYC, and Dr. Rupa Natarajan, a Family Medicine physician from the Institute for Family Health. Next door, many of the students’ mothers were in conversation with Drs. Madhury Khan, Sharmila Makhija, Sandhya Kumar, Ilora Rafique, and Maurin Razai, about women’s health issues ranging from vaccinations and contraception to colonoscopies and diabetes prevention. The students and adults alike were engaged and eager to ask more questions, and I could only lament the fact that we didn’t have more time to discuss the health and immigration issues at hand.
With a great deal of support from a school administrator; Sapna NYC staff; nonprofits such as Sakhi for South Asian Women, Planned Parenthood of NYC, and DRUM: South Asian Organizing Center; and local clinical care providers, a handful of classmates at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and I had put together a day of health education workshops at the Castle Hill Middle School in Parkchester. Community health and immigration educators led workshops on Youth Stress Management and Mental Health, Physical and Social Changes in Adolescence, and Immigration Education. Physicians from The Institute for Family Health, Montefiore Medical Center, Circle Pharmacy, and Nirvana Integrative Medicine led sessions on Preventative Health, Healthy Eating & Diabetes, and Social and Emotional Wellbeing for Adults. Ms. Gulshan Chowdury and Ms. Sabera Begum of Sapna NYC also led an interactive, instructional demonstration on Healthy Bangladeshi Cooking. And of course, Ms. Isa Tejeda, Parent Coordinator, and the Bangladeshi ESL teachers at Castle Hill encouraged their students to attend and ensured that everything ran smoothly on the day of the event. Roughly forty students and a dozen adults attended, with youth and adult sessions occurring concurrently from 11 AM until 2 PM in the Castle Hill school gym and auditorium.
As a first-year medical student, the event modeled much of what I hope to find in the medical profession. Amid a whirlwind of directing Aunties through middle school hallways, earnestly convincing young teens to eat the fruits and other healthy snacks provided, and listening to community members express their fears about immigration, it felt as though some small piece of community wellness had found necessary support. The schoolteachers were now connected to DRUM, an organization that could explain to them clearly what the rights of undocumented, South Asian students are, and connect them to legal resources if necessary. Middle-school girls were now bombarding a Planned Parenthood educator and local physician with their questions about puberty and mental health. A dozen or so women had not only received answers to pressing questions about contraception and safer sex, but were also able to discuss healthy cooking recommendations with Gulshan and Sabera. The event was a glimpse into the work that Sapna NYC and other grassroots community organizations do every day. Sapna’s consistent, long term, community building efforts are necessary to realizing South Asian wellness, strength, and joy here in the Bronx. News of their work travels far, and helped encourage me to learn more about South Asian health and wellness in New York and throughout the diaspora(s). I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to work with Sapna NYC, as well as South Asian organizations and care providers throughout the Bronx, in organizing the South Asian Family Health Day.