A growing population of Southeast Asian refugees comes with an exciting new culture to learn from, along with serious health needs that require specific attention. Those who lived or immigrated during times of unrest, like the Vietnam War era or the rule of the Khmer Rouge, arrived with specific mental health needs that not all clinics were prepared to take in.
Intercultural Family Services was founded in 1979 and provides care to all communities and ethnicities in the Philadelphia Area. Originally based in West Philly, the group opened a second location near 23rd Street and Passyunk Avenue that provides mental and behavioral health services.
“We have these Asian and ethnic-based initiatives because we really want to help them,” said the CEO of Intercultural Family Services, Evelyn Hidalgo, who is an immigrant from the Philippines.
Studies on Cambodian refugees suggest that high numbers of posttraumatic stress disorder diagnoses and depression. According to a University of Nebraska study, half of the refugees who experienced the rule of the Khmer Rouge witnessed killings of family members, suffered malnutrition and/or felt that their “life was endangered while residing in Thailand (in refugee camps).” The same study listed these factors as being directly linked to the development of mental health disorders.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 30 percent of Vietnam Veterans will have had PTSD during their lifetime.
Philadelphia county is currently home to about 20,000 Cambodians and 77,000 veterans, all requiring unique health care. Additionally, the area has a large influx of immigrants from throughout Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, along with several other ASEAN nations.
Intercultural Family Services makes it a policy to never turn down a person in need, despite whatever challenges they may bring. To make this possible, the group has expanded into two sections in Philadelphia and works on many different issues from housing needs to mental health. South Philadelphia is home to one of two behavioral health centers.
“If one group needs help, we need to help them,” said Hidalgo. “We are specialists [since] we have people who speak their language.”
The non-profit offers services in several languages, making it as accessible for a Cambodian refugee in South Philly as well as a recent West African immigrant in West Philly.
“You want to see yourself represented,” said Mary Campbell, who supervises the housing department. “We’re culturally competent.”
Cultural competency is the foundation to Intercultural Family Services’ actions. Their motto, “Diversity in Action,” was born from the concept of serving all communities equally and adapting to the changing community.
-Text, images and video by Greta Iverson.