Empowered by Learning: Nay Mu

Empowered by Learning: Nay Mu

Some of the greatest barriers to refugees accessing health care are communication and literacy. They are unaccustomed to American systems and health care in general. EMBARC addresses these barriers through group learning circles on health topics, which inspire attendees to share what they learn with others. Nay Mu is a perfect example of this “secondary sharing” at work and how it can help educate the community.

Nay Mu and her Karenni family came to the United States in 2014, where they first settled in North Carolina. One year later, she arrived in Iowa with her husband and three children.

Nay Mu didn’t speak English, and a Karenni interpreter wasn’t usually available. She struggled to understand the Burmese interpreter that was occasionally provided, since her Burmese was limited. As a result, Nay Mu and her family had gone to health care providers for years with little to no understanding of treatment. She was a passive, often powerless patient. That changed in 2017 when she participated in a Karenni flu learning circle, one of seven learning circles held in Des Moines. When EMBARC followed up with Nay Mu, she turned in a report showing she’d shared her knowledge with an additional 31 individuals.

For years, Nay Mu reported getting a flu shot simply because her doctor had told her to. However, she had begun losing faith. The shots were painful and didn’t seem to stop her from getting sick. It was with this doubt in mind that she attended a flu learning circle. She quickly learned the truth about how the flu was often mistaken as the common cold and how severe the flu actually can be. She also realized how important this information was in terms of changing people’s understanding of sickness.

Nay Mu felt it was her responsibility to teach her community. She knew that a large number of them felt the same way she did before learning the truth. Nay Mu went door to door asking her Karenni neighbors if she could talk to them for a minute about the flu. The information, she thought, was far too important for just a phone call. Speaking in person would allow her to gauge whether they understood what she was saying.

“I’m really happy when someone appreciates the information I’ve shared or they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know the importance, but I will go now!’” she said. Months later, Nay Mu still spoke of this experience enthusiastically. She looks forward to participating in future learning circles and gaining more information about different health topics. She even asked to be a host for a future learning circle so that she could help continue this valuable program.

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