Ewa Protasiuk ’15, is working at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) in Utica this summer. MVRCR has been resettling refugees in the community since 1979, and has welcomed refugees from 31 countries and helped them to become self-sufficient. They also work with immigrants and with the community at large to create a culture of diversity and acceptance. Since nearly one in four Utica residents are refugees or immigrants, the MVRCR has touched many lives during its history.
Ewa’s work with the center is focusing on a new health navigators program. The center knows that most refugees have difficulty navigating the American health system and they are working to create a system that will provide assistance to them. Ewa is working with Peter Donnelly from Union College to research existing models of health navigation, and is acting as a navigator this summer, assisting the center’s clients with scheduling medical appointments and filling out paperwork. She is also supporting the center as it works on a maternal/child health initiative with Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare, a major hospital and provider of perinatal services in Utica. She is doing some of the foundational work for a program that the organizations will implement jointly.
Ewa appreciates the cross-sectional view of refugee resettlement that this fellowship provides, and the insights that it provides into the intersection of the American healthcare system and immigration. “I can read about a policy in the morning and then see it play out before my eyes in the afternoon.” she said. “I’ve learned that I enjoy this kind of multi-dimensional approach in work, and that I like this kind of work environment.” She has learned how to assist clients in filling out job applications or applications for unemployment benefits, and has helped to facilitate ESL assessment testing. She attended a naturalization ceremony, helped lead a citizenship class, and participated in the center’s celebration of World Refugee Day. She enjoys, and feels challenged by, the opportunity to provide services directly to the center’s clients, and loves the collaborative spirit of problem solving that comes out of these interactions with clients.
The summer has been valuable for Ewa because it has given her an opportunity to learn more about the area while making a contribution. “As a person who lives in this area most of the year, I think this is very important—to realize that I am a part of this community too, and that my well-being is tied to the well-being of those around me,” she said about her experience.