Elizabeth Toll, MD
Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine
The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Dr. Elizabeth Toll, Dr. Adam Pallant and Leopold Nounka discuss refugee stories with students (Photo by HAF, 1 June 2023)
A recent vacation in Morocco included an unexpected but wonderful opportunity to participate in a human-rights training at the Universite Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fes on June 1, 2023. I am an American physician working in a clinic where I take care of the primary care needs of children, adults, and families and teach medical students and residents to do the same work. Our patients come from poor urban neighborhoods and include many immigrants from Central and South America and refugees from all over the world. My husband, Adam Pallant, MD is a pediatrician who spent 20 years working with a similar population of children.
In the course of my work, my colleagues and trainees realized that we need to be more intentional about the work we were doing with refugees, and so about 15 years ago we created a “refugee clinic” within our clinic to care for the needs of new refugees, including health care and coordinating with other organizations that address their social needs. I also do some volunteer work with immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. I conduct medical and psychological interviews and prepare their legal papers for immigration court hearings.
Participating in the Training:
Dr. Pallant and I were excited to be invited to participate in the High Atlas Foundation human rights training at the Universite Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fes. Stimulating faculty members set the tone for the morning with questions and observations. We heard an eye-opening presentation by a human-rights professional from Cameroon named Leopold Nounka doing social work in Morocco with immigrants from Sub-Saharan countries. Then we presented information about providing healthcare for refugees and legal help for asylum applicants in the United States. Students and faculty asked questions, shared ideas, and compared the experiences of immigrants with and without legal status in the United States and Morocco.
Comparing Experiences in the United States and Morocco
We covered many subjects, including the impact of forced departure from one’s homeland and the many challenges of resettlement, learning a new language and culture, racism and prejudice, and living and working in a new society, especially without legal status. We also talked about the important past and current contributions that immigrants have made to both Moroccan and American society. While the first generation generally has an especially difficult time, they persevere so their children can have a better life in the future. We noted that both countries have very diverse societies, and ongoing immigration has been part of the rich history of both nations.
The Importance of Stories
We discussed the difference between specific laws and regulations in the United States and Morocco. However, we noticed that many of the themes encountered in refugee resettlement and asylum seeking are remarkably similar. All presenters and faculty noted the importance of listening to the immigrants’ stories. Imagining the experience of an individual or family generates respect, connection, and empathy and is also healing. We spoke about how inspiring it is to work with people of such strength, resolve, and optimism and noted how much we have learned from our patients and their stories.
All in all, it was a memorable morning. It remains one of our favorite experiences in Morocco! We were touched by the generous welcome extended by the faculty and students and impressed with the level of education, passion, and commitment demonstrated by all who were teaching and taking the training session! As is typical of such experiences, we left with more questions than answers. However, our contact with the High Atlas Foundation and the Universite Sidi Mohammed Abdellah community left us more committed than ever to continue our work. We are extremely grateful for this enriching opportunity and encourage all to commit to supporting the High Atlas Foundation!
Group picture with students at USMBA Fes. Photo by:HAF, June 1st, 2023