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Post by Breeanna Lorenzen

There are many challenges to working in a refugee settlement. It can be easy to focus on the problems: refugees needing to resell their food to make a living, conflicts with the national police over land boundaries, the profound distances between the under-stocked and understaffed health centers. However, as Dan and Chip Heath mention in their book Switch, change happens when we focus on the bright spots, replicate what goes well, instead of focusing on what is wrong.

A bright spot for me occurred one morning when my co-fellow and I went to do home visits with the nurse in charge of Primary Healthcare in the settlement. Going behind the local trading center we were searching for a boy that had learning disabilities, but found him not to be home. Looking around the nurse noticed a small mud house that was falling apart, had weeds growing into the doorway, and had an old man residing inside that could not take care of himself. She was able to talk to the man about his condition to discover he was an alcoholic due to mental illness from his time in Congo.

What stuck me was how this nurse then stopped a group of men walking by and asked for their slashers. She proceeded to cut down the weeds surrounding the man’s house on her own. Seeing her do this, the neighbors came out and started to watch, then slowly joined in. One woman brought a hoe, a child helped drag the weeds away into a pile, another combed the dirt smooth and picked up the garbage around the house. What started as the action of a selfless woman with a huge heart, developed into a community effort.

This is so important in our refugee settlement because one of the main challenges is creating a sense of community ownership in a place that by definition is temporary and is comprised of so many different people from different places speaking different languages. If we can replicate this nurse’s example to empower the community to take care of its own, then I am confident change will happen and will more importantly be refugee driven.

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