Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian organization, working side-by-side with local health workers and communities to save lives and improve the health and well-being of people around the world.
Kathryn Bowen is a retired pediatrician who now spends much of her week volunteering at Casa Alitas, a shelter and welcome center for migrant families in Tucson, Arizona.
Bowen works in the shelter’s medical clinic, which is a small portion of the overall program at Casa Alitas and is managed by the Southeast Arizona Health Education Center. There, she uses her long-time health care skills to address any medical concern that clients might have.
Casa Alitas is a temporary shelter, especially for migrant asylum seekers who have been released by ICE or Border Patrol.
This means that the people Bowen helps are often ready to move onto the next step in their journeys. Accommodations, she said, “are basic but secure,” and guests are provided with regular meals, clean donated clothes, and toiletries.
On average, guests stay in the shelter for 24 hours to a few days, while they make accommodations for their final destinations.
During this time, however, many folks need a little care and support from experts like Bowen. She and other providers help connect guests with treatment for various conditions, such as rashes, tooth aches, minor viral illnesses, muscle aches, and more.
“I can provide over-the-counter medications such as analgesics for headaches, prescription refills that were confiscated at the border, and new prescriptions for acute illnesses, such as ear infections,” Bowen told Good Good Good. “We also dress minor wounds like blisters or burns, and we can do some minor tests.”
If a visitor needs more complex support, they will be referred to another clinic or emergency department.
A lot of the time, Bowen said, the folks she has seen come from countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala, Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali, and are glad to just have a listening ear.
“The guests have often traveled for weeks to months, sometimes in very harsh conditions, so stress and anxiety are often a component of their complaints, and the chance to be listened to can be part of the treatment,” Bowen said.
While many of the medical providers who volunteer with Casa Alitas have been providing medical services to migrants since the organization even existed, Bowen said she’s a new member of the team. She joined the efforts after she was connected with the health and humanitarian organization Project HOPE.
While Casa Alitas is a program of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, it works in partnership with other faith communities, government agencies, educational institutions, and NGOs — like Project HOPE.
Project HOPE’s involvement is specific to Casa Alita and SEAHEC’s Health Care Coordinator program, which helps train providers to help guests who have passed through the shelter find low cost or free medical care when they reach their destinations.
In a full circle moment, Bowen realized she would be working with Amy Pacheco — the program’s migrant coordinator — who was a patient at the clinic Bowen spent 25 years serving as pediatrician.
“While I saw many great families in that clinic, it served a mostly lower-income, sometimes fragile population,” Bowen said. “I am so thrilled when I see how successful some of those kids have been.”
Alongside Pacheco and other volunteer providers, Bowen is part of a well-oiled machine that generously welcomes new community members.
“Most of Casa Alitas’ guests are headed somewhere else. The most common destinations I see are New York and Atlanta. Often, they have family or friends in these locations, but many of them will end up in shelters elsewhere,” Bowen said.
She encourages people all over the country to consider how they can use their unique skills to support migrant individuals and families during these adjustment periods.
“I had the opportunity as a pediatrician to work in many different settings including as a pediatric emergency department physician, as a primary care provider, as a hospitalist and as an urgent care provider,” Bowen said. “This diverse background provides me with skills and confidence as I work in a shelter setting.”
While Bowen is a skilled medical professional, she knows that there are a myriad of opportunities for people to support migrant and refugee communities in their own ways.
“I am sure there are many other volunteer opportunities to work with migrants in shelters and programs in cities far from the border,” she said. “Working with literacy programs in your own town could [also] give these asylum seekers many opportunities to become better acquainted with the U.S. and its citizens.”