Boston Center for Refugee Health
&  Human Rights Newsletter
Join us 
 for our inaugural 
Fall Fête - 
A Celebration of Courage

October 15, 2014
6:00- 9:00 pm 
 The Beehive, Boston

For Tickets and Information visit

Don't miss this special benefit celebrating the courageous women and men receiving care and support through our program.

In the News

The Real Victims Here are Refugees, Not the City of Springfield

In response to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno's remarks that "urban centers have become a dumping ground" for refugees, Dr. Lin Piwowarczyk writes in the Boston Globe, "the real victims are those who have been forced to leave their home."


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Recent Publications

Congolese and Somali Beliefs about Mental Health Services

This study investigates the causes leading to underuse of important mental health services by Congolese and Somali men and women refugees and asylum seekers. The results of this study can be used by professionals who work with survivors of trauma to better their techniques for encouraging clients to seek mental health services.

Piwowarczyk, L., Bishop, H., Yusuf, A., Mudymba, F., Raj, A. (2013) Congolese and Somali Beliefs about Mental Health Services. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.  


Our Mission

We provide holistic health care coordinated with social services and legal aid for asylum seekers, refugees, torture survivors and their families.


We also train professionals to serve this population, conduct research to understand and implement best-practices, and promote health and human rights, locally and globally, to improve the quality of life for torture survivors and their communities.




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TopSeptember 2014

 We hope you are enjoying the final weeks of warm weather as summer comes to an end!  This newsletter shares a story about the importance of radical hospitality here at BCRHHR, and provides a recap of our June Gala, which was a great success, full of friendship, food, and fun. Also included is an invitation to our inaugural Fall Fête - A Celebration of Courage This is going to be a very special event you won't want to miss!  Thank you for taking a moment to read this and to stay connected with the Center.  We wish you good health, peace, and happiness, and we hope to see you again soon!

Radical Hospitality -- 

The Little Ways We Can Help

by Betsy Hinchey, Refugee Patient Navigator Volunteer

She fled her country with her two sons, escaping persecution and torture and arriving in the U.S. knowing no English.  Now she lives in a local homeless shelter.  She navigates the confusing Boston bus system to come to Boston Medical Center in hopes of treating her son's persistent injuries, in hopes of accessing resources such as food and winter coats, and in hopes of talking with someone who may make her feel more hopeful. 


I met her on a cold March day and we laughed together as I made silly faces at her baby, who smiled beneath tattered blankets and a plastic cover to shield the rain.  As we waited for the social worker to see her, we communicated with small words, gestures, smiles, and shrugs.  I offered her tea and watched her baby.  Later, I took her to the food pantry and we laughed as I tried to explain what sweet potatoes were.  A food pantry volunteer greeted her with a warm hello and waved to the baby, saying his name.  "We met on the bus this morning," he told me when I looked at him in surprise.  After we stacked all the food into her stroller, we walked around outside looking for the right bus stop.  "I'm sorry," I said, as we crossed the street for the third time, "I'm not familiar with this bus line."  She smiled and swayed her head to the side, telling me, it's okay.  As her bus finally pulled up, she grasped my arm and bowed her head, thank you.  We waved goodbye, smiling, as if good friends who wouldn't see each other again for a while.


Two weeks later, a BMC volunteer called our office and I answered.  "There's someone here who is looking for the Center for Refugee Health.  She doesn't know any English," the volunteer said.  "I'll meet you in the lobby," I told her, familiar with patients unable to find our Center on the 7th floor.    When I saw the volunteer walking towards the lobby to meet me, there was a woman with a stroller draped in plastic to shield the rain.  Our eyes met and a smile spread across her face.  I greeted her and her son by name, happy and surprised to see someone I knew.  She reached out and hugged me, our eyes meeting as if to say, good to see you.


Working in health care or social work, you learn right away about the importance of boundaries - not to give personal information, not to step outside of your professional persona, not to become friends.  And working at the Boston Center for Refugee Health, you have to be even more cautious - careful not to ask a question or make a comment that could trigger traumatic memories or negative feelings.  Yet one of the things we pride ourselves on most is something we call "radical hospitality".  I thought this was merely a cute catch phrase when I first started volunteering here.  After spending time with the woman in this story (and many others), I understand its meaning.  Through her smile and gestures of appreciation, I can see how the little things - offering her tea, making her baby laugh, recognizing her at the food pantry, helping her find the bus stop - made her experience here a little easier, her day a little brighter.  Now I understand that as Refugee Patient Navigators, "radical hospitality" is perhaps the most important part of our job and we don't need to cross boundaries or even speak the same language to do so.  It's the little ways we can help - the greetings, the smiles, the warm offers of kindness - that make someone feel welcome and comfortable, reassuring them that they are not alone, and ultimately making the difference.

Courage, hope, resilience - A Night of Remembrance & Rejoicing

by Edi Ablavsky, Volunteer

Clients and supporters of the Boston Center for Refugee Health& Human Rights gathered in June for A Night of Remembrance & Rejoicing, better known as the "June Gala."  This unique event is dedicated not to funders, donors, or volunteers-although many of those groups were present-but to the men, women, and children whom we serve.  The gala is held each year in observance of World Refugee Day (June 20) and the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 26). Clients tell me they look forward to it as a time to reflect on the milestones that they have reached on their journey of healing, as individuals and as a community-not to mention a chance to dress up in their most festive clothes and enjoy great food, while catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.  

We filled our plates and sat down to a feast of rice, plantains, salad, chicken, steak and beans provided by El Oriental de Cuba.  As we watched the sun set over Boston's skyline from the 14th floor of the BU medical building, Dr. Lin recounted some of the results from this year:  more than 400 clients served, 8 families reunited, and 19 asylum seekers granted asylum, truly something to celebrate! Pastor Samuel Mutyaba was a masterful Master of Ceremonies, punning on Director Dr. Lin's name (We all need somebody to "Lin/Lean" on!) and leading us in a rousing rendition of "There is peace like a river in my heart."


The true musical highlight came in the performance of the Arabic Children's Choir who sang-self-consciously at first, but with increasing confidence as they saw our smiles-a haunting melody with classical Arabic words, and the Arabic version of Do Re Mi (you know: Do, a dear, a female dear).  Alice from Uganda spoke of new beginnings, exorting those present to "put your past aside and strive to get hold of your future." She told the staff and volunteers at the Center, "you have given us a chance for a new beginning; you have opened a way for a brighter future for many of us." 


Ali Aljundi from Syria spoke about the violent crisis tearing his country apart. He appealed to us to call on the international community to put in motion concrete steps to end the fighting in Syria. "We must show in word and action that we are working together for a world that is strongly committed to ensuring basic human rights for all," he concluded.  Ali was followed by Tiziana Dearing, Associate Professor at Boston College, who thanked those present for not giving in to despair, for showing us all what love, hope and courage are every day.  "There is no greater gift than your story, your life, and your resilience," she told the crowd.  


Dr. Lin then presented the Ubuntu Award to Greater Boston Legal Services Immigration Unit for their hard work to help those fleeing persecution through the difficult process of seeking asylum.  "Many of our patients have been recipients of your amazing work," she told the assembled group of lawyers. Ubuntu is a Zulu word meaning "the essence of being human."


Another highlight was the fashion show where men, women, and children strutted and pranced across the floor showing off their colorful garb to a musical accompaniment provided by DJ Andy Gallagher.  As we said our good-byes, everyone received a pinwheel inscribed with the words "courage," "hope," and "resilience" on each blade, a small reminder that this supportive community of healing is a place we can turn to when the wind blows too hard. 

The Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights