Schweitzer Fellows Elizabeth Frost and Kemly Philip-Pandya found a way to combine work and play when they took a group of Burmese refugee women and their children to Galveston Island on the Texas Gulf Coast on a recent Saturday.
The trip arose after Elizabeth and Kemly learned that many of the women had yet to visit a beach since arriving in the U.S. and were eager to do so with their children. With the help of caseworkers from their community partner Alliance for Multicultural Services (AMCS), fellow ASF volunteer drivers, and donated car seats from friends and family, they brought a group of 12 adults and 17 children to Galveston Beach to enjoy sun, sand, and surf. Children quickly changed into their bathing suits and dashed into the oncoming waves, hand-in-hand with mothers and siblings. Toddlers romped in the moist sand, sculpting shapes they proudly showed off to their moms, who captured the excitement with cameras and cell phones.
After a catered lunch donated by Smooth Tony’s, a local restaurant, and live music from duo Kat Joel-Reich and Hazen Reich, the families capped the day by browsing beach shops and enjoying the scenic view from the patio at the historic Murdoch’s Bathhouse.
Elizabeth, an MPH/MSW student at UT School of Public Health and University of Houston College of Social Work, and Kemly, a fifth-year MD/PhD student at UTHealth Medical School and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, are working with the Burmese refugee women and children for their Fellowship project. Along with the AMCS, a local refugee resettlement agency, they have created a program that aims to empower the women to take control of their health, foster their development as individuals, and facilitate their integration into the larger community. The program consists of a series of workshops, interactive discussions, and excursions, which address needs the women themselves identified during focus groups. Thus far there have been workshops led by expert volunteers on cultural adjustment, nutrition, job development, dental care, reproductive health, and school district regulations. Upcoming activities include Q&A discussions with medical providers, a refugee community health fair, and vision screenings by the UT Houston Ophthalmology Department.
Kemly and Elizabeth are grateful to their mentors and the volunteers and donors who made their beach excursion so successful: Melody Brown of AMCS, Fellow for Life Dr. Emma Omoruyi, Dr. Markham, Kat Joel-Reich and Hazen Reich, Tony Gonzalez, owner of Smooth Tony’s; Marketing Specialties Inc., Campeche Cove Animal & Bird Hospital, Edward Sulzberger and Linda Musso, Drs. Matthew Dasco and Premal Patel; ASF Fellows Connie Foo and Britt Gillard; Ka Re Osman, Todd Alcanter, George Koshy, and the Houston Global Health Collaborative. They are especially grateful to the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship for the opportunity to make an impact and improve health among the Burmese refugee community in Houston.