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Group informs East African refugees about Obamacare

Yasmin HamudThe East African Collaborative is pushing to sign up 300 City Heights residents for Obamacare before March 31.

"We have a hefty goal," said Yasmin Hamud, founder and executive director of the Center for Bridging Communities, one of eight organizations that make up the collaborative group.

Other members include The Horn of Africa, Huda Community Center, Nile Sisters, Somali Family Service, Somali Youth United, Southern Sudanese Community Center of San Diego and South Sudan Christian Youth and Community Organization.

The group started meeting in 2011, even before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as constitutional.

Last year, the group did awareness and outreach, she said.

"This year, we [are in the] second phase, which is all enrollment," she said.

The California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities Initiative funds the group. Building Healthy Communities is a 10-year, $1 billion effort to change the way that health happens in 14 areas of California, including City Heights.

The collaborative is intended to help the East African community understand health-care reform in a way that is understandable to East Africans. Several of the East African Collaborative organizations have become enrolling entities and it has nine Certified Enrollment Counselors, Hamud said.

The message is "we speak your language, because we have the capacity of five languages within the collaborative," she said.

The languages include Arabic, Somali, Swahili and the Sudanese languages Nuer and Dingka.

Hamud describes the group's first mission as getting to "know our East African leaders within the community," she said. "We were determined to find out what exists within the community and where the needs are."

The group members were also sharing information.

"We had various workshops in mosques, in churches, in house meetings," she said.

Now the focus has shifted to enrollment, where challenges include many people in the same family who have different insurance situations.

"You could have a family of eight, where two people qualify for Medi-Cal, two people qualify for the ACA, and there is a male hanging around, not sure where he belongs, and that is the person we are interested in, to see if he qualifies and we could enroll him" in Obamacare, she said.

And the nuances of working within the East African Community are many.

For example, "The majority of Somali community is an oral community," she said. "So sometimes we translate [information] into literature, but we also have to read that literature back to them."

The group also has to understand East African family relationships.

"Sometimes we bring together in house meetings ten women and they will outreach to other women," she said. "It is amazing the power of the female within the community.

"She is very revered, and, it might not translate much when it comes to the political scene in Somali, but within the family dynamic she is the shaker and the mover."

Another struggle is people who believe they are shut out of insurance, she said.

"Now, it is sitting with them and saying 'Guess what, your husband can now have insurance,' " she said. "Actually, it's his right to have insurance"

Kick off

What: Community outreach event

When: March 22

More information: Contact Somali Family Services - (619) 265-5821

Members of the East African Collaborative

 

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