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Produced In 10 Languages For Arizona Refugees, COVID-19 Safety Videos Reach 70,000

The official language of the African nation Burundi is named Kirundi. Julie Ngiriye speaks it and other languages, which is why the social worker and care coordinator helped make an  informational video about the coronavirus for Burundian refugees living in Arizona and beyond.

“I know the struggles they go through for having going through the same struggles myself,” she said.   

In the video, Ngiriye explained how to wash your hands. She also talked about social distancing, not sharing plates or food utensils, and sneezing into your elbow. The goal, she said, is to inform.  

“How it is really pandemic, not a simple disease,” she said.

The video is one of  10 produced in different languages.They feature Ngiriye, staff called cultural health navigators, and a doctor at Valleywise Health’s Pediatric Refugee Clinic.

“It is actually the best medium to be able to reach the majority of them in the community,” Ngiriye said, and noted that many refugees don’t read or write.

The doctor said shared apartments, jobs with no sick leave, and limited child care options make refugees especially vulnerable to COVID-19. As the coronavirus started to sweep through Arizona, state officials and Valleywise Health joined forces to make safety videos in languages like Swahili, Karen and Arabic.

In less than a month, the 10 videos have been watched on YouTube about 70,000 times. The video done in Somali has the most views. A local leader said it’s because most of the Somali community has been here for years. Making sure newer arrivals also get the message is the hard part.

Dr. Michael Do, the main pediatrician at Valleywise’s Pediatric Refugee Clinic, does the introduction to each video, and the ones in English and Spanish.

Do pursued an interest in global health, then realized he could practice it locally by working with those who, like his parents, started over in the United States.

“They are innately resilient people, but it's a lot of different things that can most certainly complicate their health care,” he said.

The challenge to understand the insurance system is just one reason why refugees are uniquely susceptible to COVID-19, Do said. Social factors play a role, too, like multigenerational households.

“With children, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents all sharing a one- or two-bedroom apartment,” he said.

Do said the effort to reach people through video was a big collaboration between the clinic and the Arizona Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the state Department of Economic Security, which found someone to produce and direct them for free.

Using Valleywise’s studio, the clinic’s multilingual staff made the project go.

“This and my larger clinical work would not be possible without the assistance, guidance, counsel of our cultural health navigators,” he said.  

Muktar Sheikh is a former refugee with the Somali Association of Arizona and Refugees and Immigrants Community for Empowerment. He also credited the state for engaging the community at the start of the pandemic.

Sheikh asked for and helped distribute the videos. The one in Somali has more than 50% of the total combined views.

“Because of the Muslim ban, there’s not a lot of new Somalian refugees,” he said. 

Most Somalis have been here for more than five years, Sheikh said. So they can get answers on the internet and connect with the broader community through social media.

“Those videos are very helpful to people who have access to it,” he said.

Sheikh worried about roughly 2,000-plus refugees who came to Arizona between six and 24 months ago. He said COVID-19 safety tips must be given to them individually.

“Those phone calls could make a big difference educating the newer refugee population,” he said.

Data show that most of them fled countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Cuba.

Sheikh said he’s been told that the state has a plan to reach them.

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Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.