Beautiful Description of Culturally Appropriate Mental Health Services

Rwandan Mental Health in The Moth Podcast

Photo and quote from and The Moth Podcast

Even when mental health services are available and our clients are willing to access them, they are often not at all culturally appropriate.  A blog post about an episode of The Moth Podcast illustrates that statement in a beautiful way.

Here’s a link to the blog post also restated here and to the original podcast.

The Rwandan prescription for Depression: Sun, drum, dance, community.

“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave.

They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better, there was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, there was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy, there was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again.

Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.” ~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.

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Innovative Refugee Health Project in Seattle

EPA Somali Workshop

Fahmo Abdulle goes over healthy home tips with members of the Somali community. Photo from the original article by Kate Gibson, Communications/Fund Development Associate for the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle in the US EPA blog.

We all learned how much energy and innovation Seattle area refugee resettlement agencies and other community partners put into helping our clients thrive after Higher’s Seattle Employment Workshop in March.

Opening Immigrant Eyes to Environmental Health at Home describes how that collaborative energy raises community awareness and delivers resources beyond the scope of initial resettlement or employment services.

Members of the Burmese, Bhutanese and Somali community were trained and conducted workshops to increase awareness of indoor air quality with an EPA Environmental Justice Small Grant to the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS).

New immigrants may falsely assume that their environment and products they can buy in the US is cleaner and safer than in refugee camps or their home countries.  The article includes  great examples and comments from new immigrants in their own words.

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50 Niche Job Boards

Niche Job Board List via higheradvantage.orgWOW!  Part-time and telecommuting, Healthcare, Internships, Trucking, Manufacturing, Finance/Accounting….

There are tons of options on this  job board list (click here) from and  even more sites in the comment section at the end.

How to Use Them?

1.  Identify new leads for job development and job openings to pursue right now.  Especially helpful for rare client skills that don’t match your go-to employment partner positions.

2.  Share one or two with highly-skilled clients to support their independent job search.  (Be sure they know the limitations of over-reliance on online applications.)

3.  Ask a volunteer or intern to explore the list, select the best ones and then share with the network via Higher’s blog.

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Robert Bukenya Explains Selling Yourself in a Job Interview

Roberty Bukenya, Cafe Clarkston, Higher Advantage, Refugee Employment

After working steadily since he was resettled in 2009, Robert is currently working part time while studying aviation at Georgia Tech, building on his work experience at an airport in Uganda.

Robert Bukenya, a successful refugee job seeker from Congo, explains how and why to sell yourself in a job interview in the great video you can watch at the end of this post.

Thanks to Cafe Clarkston (GA) for sharing it.You likely repeat this advice over and over in job readiness classes and client meetings.  It will be much more convincing explained by a peer.  (And a very charming, well-spoken one, at that.)

Consider showing this video in your job readiness class or one-on-one client coaching sessions.

More about Cafe Clarkston

Cafe Clarkston is the only full-service refugee employment program we know of that does not receive refugee resettlement funding. It’s only one of the many successful services provided by Friends of Refugees. Higher enjoys a long history of partnership with their innovative staff.

In FY2013 at Friends of Refugees, more than 50,000 volunteer hours served over 2,000 individuals across 10 program areas, including hundreds of job placements, 7,000 meals served in kids’ summer camp, hundreds of moms and kids learning English together, dozens of babies born to healthy moms and over 70 family kitchen tables filled with fresh produce from their plots in the Jolly Avenue community gardens!

Thanks Brian, Lauren, Adam and Robert!


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Preparing Clients to Provide Employment References

Thumbs up ImageFor most of our clients, the issue with providing employment references is that they don’t have any appropriate in the US workforce context.

References are important, especially for newcomers with unfamiliar or minimal work histories.  In fact, HR professionals see an increased reliance on quality references to separate effective social media self-promotion from real qualifications and experience.

Initially, clients can use resettlement agency staff as references – case managers, job developers, ESL instructors or employment specialists.  Be sure clients know this and that they are prepared with the correct contact information to provide when references are requested.

Here are some additional talking points and tips you can use to explain the concept and help clients get started building references.

Help your colleagues provide effective references.  Make sure they agree to play this role.  Provide them with talking points.  For example, the client has:

  • been on-time to all meetings and appointments.  They will come to work on time, too.
  • attended all orientation, work readiness and ESL classes.  They are ready and able to learn.
  • complied with all agency policies and eligibility requirements.  They follow the rules.
  • asked many questions about work and jobs in the US.  They are ready and eager to work.
  • a very supportive, stable family or living situation.  They will be a reliable employee.

Define the term and tell clients when to expect a reference request.    References are people who can talk about your ability to do the job and their experience with you as a reliable, trustworthy and qualified person.  Employers often request that you provide them with three references that they will call before they offer you a job.

Take the opportunity to reinforce the importance of keeping a job for at least six months.  Most people in the US use references from their previous jobs.  This is one more reason why it is important to keep a job for at least six months so you can get to know people well enough to ask them to be a reference.  Quitting without giving at least two weeks notice is a guaranteed way to get a negative reference.

Provide guidance for selecting references now and in the future.  References don’t have to be people you worked with.  They should be someone who knows you and can give examples of why you would be a great employee.

  • Your preacher, deacon, fellow volunteer or even a neighbor or community leader could be a good reference.
  • Don’t list relatives as references.  Everyone knows your family will only say good things about you.
  • Be sure your references speak fluent English and can be easily reached by a US phone number or via email.  Employers won’t spend the time or money to make an international phone call.

Finally, these steps for lining up great references could be useful for some of the most advanced clients – or maybe for you.




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Free Tool IDs Key Words

apply online red buttonOn-line applications equal frustration for clients and Employment professionals.

Nothing good ever comes from computer literate clients wasting time submitting imperfect on-line applications and never making it past automated key word screening. offers an on-line tool that may help.  (Click here).  Paste in a resume and job description to get key word matches and other tips.  For more background about how “bots” work with online applications, refer to this previous blog post.

How You Could Use it
  • Demonstrate with a client resume as you help them understand why they aren’t getting calls and need to do more than apply on-line.
  • Provide the URL to clients after the discussion.  Assign them the homework of using it on their own to 1dentify some words to add or change.
Customer Review

With my own resume, it recommended that I change the “Professional Experience” heading in my own resume to “Work Experience”, which is more common.

I also tried it with an on-line application by cutting and pasting job descriptions I had written for a client.

It took  more time to clip in job descriptions instead of an entire resume, but it gave me several obvious key words from the job announcement that were not included at all in my application.  In both of my trials, some of the words it picked up on were clearly based on frequency of use, not relevance to any kind of skill.

Bottom line

It takes a bit of thought to put the results to work.  On balance, I think it’s worth a try and would love to hear how it works for you.




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Different Concepts of “Time”

Alarm ClockA recent article in Business Insider analyses three different belief structures around time:  Linear, Mult-active and Cyclic.

It’s interesting to learn a bit of the theory behind such an important concept in our work.


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Resources for Understanding PTSD

PTSD SnipMental health barriers to employment are very common in our client populations.  Click here to access a webinar and print resource about PTSD.

These useful resources were made available by Ethiopian Community Development Council, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services and the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture.

(Apologies for the state of this original post.  Can’t explain it.   Fixed it.  Lorel)


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3 Resources to Address Client Mental Health Barriers

Mental Health imageA significant percentage of our clients suffer the effects of trauma, torture and PTSD.  Mental health resources are often scarce for anyone.  Culturally appropriate solutions are even more rare.

Resettlement and employment case managers may be the strongest source of support clients can access, but most of us are not trained mental health responders.

Here are three sources of information to improve your ability to identify and address mental health barriers to employment:

1.  Mental Health First Aid  is an 8-hour course that helps you identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.   This is a very practical, affordable, locally-available training option.  You can access certified instructors throughout the US via their website.

2.  The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) offers a collection of useful resources.

3.  Higher’s Employability Assessment eLearning training offers employment-specific strategies.  Sign up or log in here.



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Work Smarter with Increased Afghan SIV Arrivals

Afghan SIV image

Image Credit: Radio Free Europe

Afghan SIV arrivals have increased significantly in recent months.  Many come in to resettlement offices as walk-ins, seeking services after arriving on their own with green cards and high expectations.

Read more for links to recent articles, useful information and strategies to provide more effective employment services to this population.  Many of the strategies could also apply to Iraqi SIVs.

One Factor in the Increased Arrivals

Afghan SIVs have been required to apply for R&P benefits before traveling to the US.  The timing of this process, visa expiration and other timing factors were making it impossible for many SIVs to obtain those benefits.

In June, the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) changed the process to allow Afghan SIVs to apply for R&P benefits through any resettlement agency in the US within 60 (and sometimes 90 days of their arrival).  Learn more about the SIV application process here. 

Strategies to consider 

Help SIVs identify other marketable skills they gained as interpreters.  When conducting an employability assessment, spend more time discussing the nature of their interpreting work. The information can improve client resumes, identify alternative career paths and begin to help adjust expectations.  Some helped organize community meetings or other large events.  Many developed strong computer and document preparation skills.  Most worked with a range of stakeholders with very different backgrounds and perspectives requiring strong communication and cross-cultural skills.

Provide resources for more independent job searches.  Many SIVs have the skills and interest to pursue a more independent job search.   Help them sign up for a free lifetime username and password for Higher’s On-line Learning Institute and encouraging them to take training on How to Complete a Job Application.  Provide additional information about the limitations and realities of on-line applications.  Read this previous blog post for tips for getting past automated initial screening technology.

Adjust Job Readiness and Job Development Strategies.  Provide a list of current job openings gathered from Craigslist, employer partners and other regular sources.  Tell clients when and where to get the list so they can follow-up on their own.  Provide wage information for a range of jobs to help adjust unrealistic salary expectations.  Consider written exercises to screen for differences between spoken and written language fluency, which can have an impact on the type of jobs these clients can get.

Strengthen Connections to U.S. Ties and Previous Arrivals.   Prepare a fact sheet for friends, anchors and other connections who are already providing support and advice so they can continue to do that with more accurate information.  The better they understand resettlement and employment, the more they can help.  Consider identifying SIVs and/or military contacts who could share their experiences with new arrivals.  Offer a networking event or special meeting to facilitate connections among Afghan SIVs, potential employers and military contacts.

 Recent Articles for More Information

Afghan SIV Perspective from CBS News

Limits and Possible Extension of SIV Slots from Independent Journal Review

(Higher presented two employment sessions at the recent National Migration Conference in DC.  Read more in a series of posts about what we learned over the next few weeks.)


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