The life of a Boise refugee: Health and Healing

Posted at 6:18 PM, Mar 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-10 20:50:05-05

Refugees are displaced due to violence and conflict and, many times, end up in a camp with not much more than a place to stay.

By the time they find permanent homes, 20 years could easily go by.

But, refugees arriving in Boise have a unique opportunity upon arrival.

The World Center for Health and Healing has been helping them be successful in their transitions since 2008.

Heading to the doctor's office is not something that most of us look forward to, let alone a newcomer to the U.S. who doesn't speak the language. At the World Center for Health and Healing, language barriers are not getting in the way of treatment.

With several translators on staff, over ten languages are spoken at the clinic. Plus, many of the translators can relate as they too came to America under similar circumstances.

Steve Ilunga, originally from the Congo, speaks seven languages.

"This was God's answer for us to come to Boise, especially," he says. "It's a great place to be."

Ilunga is not only a translator, but he's also a community health advisor at the Saint Alphonsus clinic. He makes sure the patients' physical concerns are being communicated accurately and vice-versa with the doctor's treatment plan.

Outside of the clinic, Ilunga helps refugees get to the pharmacy for medication and might even give them a lift to followup appointments.

What's most unique about the facility is its holistic approach. Mental health providers are also standing by.

"The ultimate goal is to get them to see that these physical symptoms that they're experiencing relate back to the trauma they've been through," says Dr. Chip Roser, who was a part of the clinic's formation. "And, once they achieve that realization, that's when the true healing starts."

The family medicine doctor says it's rewarding to see the positive transformations but that it is not something that happens overnight.

"It's not something that happens in a week or a month but it happens over years," Dr. Roser says.

Ilunga is glad to be in a good spot in his life. He feels good knowing he is making a difference in his community.

"This [the clinic staff and patients] is my family," Ilunga says. "It's not about work anymore."

The clinic staff sees patients primarily from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. They are currently accepting new patients.

Even with the current refugee, influx crisis in Europe, Dr. Roser says Boise still receives on average 1,000 new refugees each year.