Julia Remy, African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab

When I was 15, I got my first job as a lifeguard at the local YMCA. Since then I’ve worked five different jobs ranging from babysitting to swim instructor to research assistant. Despite the vast differences in work environments I have never thought about workplace violence. This is an undeniable example of the level of privilege that I’m accustomed to, as I have never faced an incident of workplace violence such as wage theft, physical or verbal abuse. Many are not as lucky, especially those that are the sole-providers for their families, aren’t native English speakers or are undocumented. Throughout my time in the Health Promotion Program Planning course I was able to work with the African Immigrant Health Promotion Lab (AIHPL) to learn more about the impact of workplace violence on the African immigrant community throughout  he D.C. area.

AIPHL is a group of community leaders that aim to raise awareness of health issues impacting members of the African immigrant community. Some of their priority areas include increasing access to nutritious food, raising awareness of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and prevention of domestic and workplace violence. The community I worked with was a group of people from Francophone nations within Africa with a high concentration of Congolese and Senegalese people. As religion is a major aspect of this culture the lab does most of it work from a church in Silver Springs, MD. One Sunday morning, a group of students and I visited the church for their Sunday morning prayers, little did we know that this three-hour service was done entirely in French! As my family is French, I was able to understand and translate a good amount of the service, but three hours of religion in French was a lot! After the service, we asked the congregation to fill out a survey regarding their health behaviors including the impact of workplace violence. I was also able to speak, in broken French, to some of the members to learn more about their lives and their work environments.

I went to the church with the expectation that these people wouldn’t want to share highly personal information such as their work history or domestic violence stories. To the contrary of my expectations, they were extremely welcoming (I even got a job offer to work at refugee camp in Congo!) and willing to help us with our project but were more eager to help their community.

To be honest I was a little confused when assigned to focus on workplace violence as it was an issue I knew little about and therefor assumed was rare or non-existent. Unfortunately, I was wrong as a majority of the congregation had experienced some form of workplace violence.

I tried to combat this by creating a series of workshops focusing on the education and prevention of workplace violence while paying attention to the unique needs of this community. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing very little to impact this vast and vibrant community, but am truly hopeful that the members will be able to recognize and report the multifaceted issue of workplace violence. In summation, this experience not only reaffirmed the privileges I have, but taught me a lot about a community I would have never interacted with if it wasn’t for American University.

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