Feature Testimony: Covid Hope & Health
“The shift from reserved hesitancy stemming from lack of information, to empowerment and confidence was quite evident, and many were grateful for the case worker’s promise to assist them with getting registered online.”
by Hoda Shawky, MSN, RN, CPNP and Susan Johnson, RN-BC, MPH
Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian – Pastoral Care Department
“Is it true that if someone had COVID and then gets vaccinated, that he/she could die?”
“Which brands of vaccines contain the viral vector versus the mRNA vector?”
“I am currently taking chemotherapy for cancer, should I get the vaccine?”
Reaching the underserved is a constant for public health, and Covid has only exacerbated this as seen in health care disparity statistics across the nation. With increasing availability of Covid vaccines it is imperative that all people have access to factual information regarding the importance, safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and how to get an appointment.
These were some of the questions that several Orange County based Arab immigrants and refugees wanted the answers to. Fortunately, when Joe Guidotti, Executive Director of Voice of Refugees, reached out to Hoag Health Ministries inquiring about an Arabic speaking nurse to address their concerns, they were connected to one of our own Faith Community Nurses, Hoda Shawky. Although offered at midday on a Wednesday, the Zoom presentation was well attended by both women and men, many of whom wanted to make an informed decision before getting vaccinated. After hearing the facts about the COVID-19 virus, its spread, and the science behind widespread immunization, the participants began asking detailed questions about the vaccine and how they can sign up for their turn. Many of the women, ranging from North African to Middle Eastern, exchanged suggestions on where to sign up and local pharmacies with a current supply. The shift from reserved hesitancy stemming from lack of information, to empowerment and confidence was quite evident, and many were grateful for the case worker’s promise to assist them with getting registered online.
Women armed with Covid facts and knowledge of where to access the vaccine are not only key to family health, but also an essential resource for spreading the word within communities in support of efforts to reach herd immunity and help us all be better served because of it. This is one example of how Faith Community Nurses can make a difference outside of the four walls of a hospital or clinic.
From the Executive Director: Joe Guidotti
On Wednesday, March 24th around 4:30 pm, I was notified that one of our families had received an eviction notice to be enforced the following Monday. I was a bit skeptical due to the eviction moratorium and the fact that we had warned our families, a few times, that if they are late paying rent to submit a COVID-19 Financial Distress Form to their landlord. This form protects them from being evicted until June 2021. We offered to help them complete the form and showed them how to fill it out during an online meeting.
Unfortunately, unknown to us, the many stresses and overwhelming pressure of these times was taking a severe toll on a refugee woman we serve. I will call her Dalia. Out of all the people who met with Dalia, through food delivery or online classes (she attends almost every class we offer in her age group); no one had any sense that Dalia was overwhelmed and struggling. I personally met with Dalia almost every week when she came to VOR to pick up groceries. Dalia always has a unique greeting for me, “Hello John Travolta,” laughing knowing my name is Joe. I have not figured out yet why she calls me John Travolta. Dalia always tries to make me laugh and succeeds often, even though I am somewhat stoic. In character, Dalia always departs with a smile, a big thank you and goodbye while literally saluting me (she gets a real kick out of it). I was stunned that it was her family that was being evicted.
We knew she was six months late on rent and stopped receiving income seven months ago, because we helped her complete Anaheim Rental Assistance application on March 2nd. What Dalia did not tell us was she was in the process of being evicted because she had failed to give the landlord a COVID Distress form that would have protected her and her family from eviction. Before starting the eviction, the landlord had given her the form two times…culture and language barriers unfortunately coincided with the extreme pressure she was under. What could we do?
Viola, our case manager, called the landlord to see what could be done. It was too late from their perspective since they had amassed $1000 in lawyer fees and obtained an over $11,000 judgement against her and her husband from the OC Superior Court. While Viola told me the sad news, she mentioned that the landlord had just called Anaheim City asking about her rental assistance application to see if there was a possibility of approval to prevent the eviction. They told her that the City was still accepting applications and would not review them until the period closed (March 31). When I heard this, I called the landlord to get the contact information of the person she talked to and to see if they would agree to stop the eviction if the City approved her rent assistance application. It took a bit of negotiation; the landlord said if the City agreed to approve the rent assistance application and VOR paid the $1000 in lawyer fees, they would not enforce the eviction. By now, it was after 5:00 PM, so I knew the City offices were closed. At this time, I emailed the City representative.
I called the City in the morning but was told the City representative was off that Thursday, so I asked to talk to her supervisor. He answered, but could not stay on the call, so he asked me to email him about the situation. I did right away.
In the meantime, Dalia had come in to VOR to meet with Viola to try to find out why the government had stopped paying Dalia for the caregiving she provided to her parents. It is a great program for the US government and low-income families that cannot afford a caregiver and can use additional income. We had not told Dalia we were trying to get her rent assistance application approved at this point, but I felt she should know. I wanted to tell her in a way that would not give her false hope. I said that it would be highly unlikely that the City could approve her application and obtain a real commitment from the landlord with just a day and a half remaining to get approved, so I said we should appeal to God to help her and her family. I explained that as Dalia had made a mistake in not submitting the form, God had on many occasions helped me when I did not deserve His help. I was able to, once again, share the gospel with her but distinguished her mistake from my sin. Dalia, a Muslim, agreed to pray with Viola and I to ask God to help her not get evicted. She and Viola went off to call about her missing caregiving income.
It was a miracle that the government agency answered Viola’s call. After providing Dalia’s identification number, Viola explained the situation to the government representative who insisted that Dalia had been paid in full. Viola asked the representative to look at the name of the person who had been paid. The representative was shocked to discover it was not Dalia, somehow her ID number was mismatched to the wrong person and bank account! In about 30 minutes, Dalia had been assured that she would receive about $7000 in back wages. We were all so encouraged and thankful (I stepped in the room when I heard they got through and was able to listen to the conversation).
I went back to connecting with the City to find out if her application could be reviewed by Friday afternoon. I am so pleased to tell you the City of Anaheim bent over backwards to see if it could be done. They needed additional information, so we helped Dalia get the information. In fact, I emailed the City about 11:30 pm Thursday night when Dalia provided it. By noon on Friday, I still had not heard from the City. Around 1 pm, Dalia called me to say her online status of her application changed from ‘waiting’ to ‘In Review!’ Dalia was so excited and encouraged and so was I. I reminded her that it was in review, not approved, and we had no idea how long it would take them to complete it. This was still a miracle and we thanked God that it was in review at least!
Late Friday afternoon the City called Dalia’s landlord to tell them they had approved her rental application! The landlord called me to confirm our willingness to pay their lawyer fees, which I did. This is when I found that the lady who served as a representative for the apartment complex, I had been talking to did not have the authority to approve stopping the eviction. The owner would not be in until Monday. We continued to trust God.
Dalia, Viola, and I were so thankful that God moved the City to approve her application but now had to wait until Monday morning to get a final decision. We did receive the owner’s approval Monday, so the eviction was avoided. Dalia expressed her gratitude to everyone she met. In fact, she called Rania, our new case worker, at 10 PM on the following Thursday night to tell Rania that she had been,” redeemed by God, He gave her a whole new start.”
We continue to walk with Dalia to help her make sense out of what God has been and is currently doing.
VOR Community Stories
In 2021, we are celebrating individuals who make up the VOR community. Our second story comes from Carina, our dedicated ESL volunteer teacher, who was born and raised in Sweden, later serving as missionary in Albania. Our next story will go live on April 14th at noon. Follow us on Instagram @voiceofrefugees
Where has your journey led you?
I was born in Sweden and have also lived in Albania, Greece and the USA.
What is a favorite moment in the time you’ve spent overseas?
🔊 I don’t know if a have a favorite moment but I look back and remember people from all the countries. Relationships are important and, compared to America, there was more time to sit down and talk or share a meal.
How have you served at VOR?
🔊 I have taught English in the ESL classes for two years, and I have also helped with meal distribution some times.
What is a surprising, fun, or poignant moment in the time you’ve volunteered at VOR?
🔊 Again, it has to do with friendships and food. I have been so surprised by generous gifts of baklava or dolmas!
What is your favorite thing to do?
🔊 I like to spend time with my family, especially when we are together outdoors, maybe going for a hike or spending time at the beach. I also like to play the piano or read a book.
What is a dish from your culture/heritage/places you’ve lived – that people should try?
🔊 In Sweden we make meatballs and now I have learned to make qofta/kofta – they are better and tastier than Swedish meatballs!
What is something that has been challenging for you?
🔊 It’s hard for me to live far away from my parents and my siblings. They are all in Sweden. I love “my new family” from all over the world but I really miss my close family from Sweden. Hopefully we can go visit them soon!
What is one thing you want people to know about you?
🔊 I hope that everyone can see Jesus through me. I know that He loves me and I want to serve Him. I want others to get to know Him as well.
What is one thing you want people to understand about refugees?
🔊 Many refugees have lived through very difficult situations and they, just like myself, need a home and good friends.
1: Kofta is a Middle Eastern dish made from ground lamb or beef mixed with onions, garlic, and spices. The meat mixture is shaped into balls, patties or logs, then grilled.
2: The picture on the left shows Carina at her favorite lake and small rowing boats in Sweden.
Multi-Track Testimonies: God’s Work in ESL Ministry
Track A (by Judi Power, ESL Volunteer): “A few years ago, a new longing was birthed in my heart to work with refugees in some capacity, but it wasn’t yet God’s timing, so I tucked this longing away and continued volunteering in the current ministries where God had me serving. Then, during this Covid season, that tucked away longing greatly intensified, so much so, that I sensed it was God directing me to get involved somehow, somewhere. I soon discovered that, Covid or not, God definitely had a door waiting to be opened for me! I began researching websites and came across Voice of Refugees. It was there that I learned how this wonderful ministry had many opportunities to help Arabic refugees, which included teaching ESL Zoom classes. I am a retired teacher with ESL experience, so I sent an email to inquire about the position. I am happy to report that VoR responded, confirming to me that it was God’s perfect timing to teach for this incredible ministry! I have loved using my teaching skills again to work with these beautiful, inspiring students. It has been such a new and incredible experience for me – one that I am forever grateful for!”
Track B (by VOR Staff): “In February, we learned that one of our ESL volunteers, Jim, will be going on a mission trip to Haiti. Jim teaches our Level 1 English students and a 2-week absence seemed especially challenging to fill. We reached out to local universities, who helped us spread the word among their TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) graduates. We publicized through our church partners. Toward the end of February, we turned to our last resort: staff members would take turns to teach the class. But we kept praying for the need. Then, with exactly one week left before Jim’s departure, seemingly out of the blue, we received a phone message from Judi who found VOR online. Not only did Judi reach out to help with ESL, she was ready to tackle the sharp learning curve (for Zoom teaching with digital textbooks). In the blink of an eye, she passed through all the onboarding steps (phone interview, pastoral reference, training)…in time even to touch base with Jim right before he set off for Haiti! Judi was the perfect match, whom God prepared to reveal at the right time. Now that March has come and gone….as we celebrate moments in Haiti, new friendships in ESL class, we find ourselves full, praising our God whose infinite wisdom and glorious ways show just how much He loves us – saint, sinner, sojourner all alike.”
- Pray for Muslim refugee families especially during this month of Ramadan, for God to open eyes to His truth and grace, and direct visions and encounters with Christ in this time of intense spiritual devotion.
- Pray for refugees who live alone to find comfort in God’s presence and support and encouragement in a community of grace and generosity.
- Pray for refugee families’ health and that they experience peace during this time of increased family stresses. Pray for financial stability and for refugees to be able to return to stable work opportunities with work hours enough to pay for monthly bills.
- Pray for God to raise up more new monthly donors to enable adequate staffing and more effective services to meet the growing needs of the refugee and asylum-seeking community in OC.
- Pray for the provision of Pashto-speaking volunteers who can partner with us to serve the literacy needs of Afghan women and build their capacity to adjust to life in the U.S.
- Please pray for VOR staff that we make wise decisions and always act in ways that positively reflect on Jesus Christ in the refugee community.
Spring Program Dates: 4/12/2021 – 5/28/2021
- Pathway to Citizenship Workshop | M | 7:00-8:30pm
- Healthy Mind & Heart | Tu | 7-8:30pm
- Computer Training | W | 7:00-8:30pm
- Kids & Teen Clubs | W | 7:00-8:30pm
- ESL Level 1 to 4 | M Tu W Th | 11:30pm to 1:00pm
- US Culture, News, and Hot Topics | M Tu W Th | 1:00pm to 1:30pm
- Conversational English | Th | 7:00-8:30pm
- Friday Night@theMovies for Kids | F | 6:30-8:30pm
- Friday Night@theMovies for Teens | F | 7:30-9:30pm
- 1-on-1 Tutoring | M or Th | 5:30-6:30pm
- 1-on-1 Job Coaching | By Appointment