Building Wellness and Community

Erika Juran | October 9, 2023

Our office, Church World Service (CWS) Harrisburg, which is part of CWS South Central Pennsylvania, has been up and running for about a year and half now. Within that time, we have created strong partnerships and connections to community groups, educational institutions and mental health professionals. Those clients presenting urgent mental health concerns identified during the resettlement period within 90 days of arrival are referred to their Preferred Communities Intensive Case Manager for referral to one of our mental health provider partners.

When refugees move into a new country, they carry the burdens of the trauma they have endured, and adjusting to a foreign environment carries its challenges. Our program “Circle of Care for Carlisle’s Afghan Refugees” consists of a series of four events designed to offer mental health educational resources, tools and skills for families to manage stress that can be practiced in their homes at no cost. These events are aimed at promoting wellness as well as community fostering and include trauma-informed yoga sessions for women, a tearoom offering compassionate listening for men, childcare services and delicious traditional cuisine.

The program leadership team of Afghan refugees are trained by non-profits Yogamour and Someone To Tell It To. The team learns and then leads these activities in the community’s languages of Dari and Pashto. Our staff team has received “Trauma Support Care for All” training and will receive restorative yoga instruction.

Carlisle, the county seat of Cumberland County, is a few miles from the shores of the Susquehanna River, on the banks of which Harrisburg sits. The Carlisle community warmly welcomed the Afghans when they arrived in the fall of 2021, a few months before we received the keys to our office, and we determined that this was the right place to hold our program, which is funded in part by Carlisle-based The Partnership for Better Health.

We will hold our third of four events later this month. Will the program be considered successful in hitting its stated outputs and outcomes? We believe so.

But here is what we have observed: The women glow as much for the time together and the yoga poses as for their rare opportunity to have an hour to just to themselves. The children (nearly half of attendees) love playing together. The women who cook the food are rightly proud of their work. One gentleman upon leaving said that he was speechless with how meaningful the event was for him. And our staff team is simply overwhelmed in the best way by our friends’ dignity and grace in the face of their immense challenges, their willingness to try something new and to share their difficult stories with a stranger, and their generosity of time and care for their community in addition to balancing school, work, family and rebuilding their lives.

“I left the event feeling informed, inspired, and empowered to persist in advocating for mental health awareness and support. I look forward to future events that promote mental health dialogue and create positive change in our communities.” -M.H.

“Women were so genuinely delighted, they shared with me how they are enjoying yoga with peace of mind because of the childcare and they all had positive responses which is amazing.”- S.J.

Erika Juran is the Development Officer for CWS Harrisburg (PA) @cwsharrisburg