Dec. 23, 2021

Nursing students empower Yazidi refugees through community health nursing project

Student group in NURS 289 worked with group of Yazidi women to help make and sell their traditional foods at holiday market in Bowness
UCalgary Nursing students with Yazidi women

Through the universal language of food, a group of second-year nursing students at UCalgary helped Yazidi refugees strengthen their connection to the Bowness community where they live.

Working through community partner organization Reach YYC, the students supported the refugees by printing their COVID vaccine cards and worked closely with three Yazidi women in particular to help make and sell food at a booth in the Bowness Community Association’s holiday market last month.

  • Pictured above from top left: Charls Dino, four Yazidi women, instructor Megan D'Souza, Amirarshia Eskandari, Kulveer Rai, Zain Virani, Madison Thul, Braden Kehler, Sophia Cadang, Faith Moghaddami.

“During our evaluation, we learned that, more than making money, the Yazidi ladies wanted to make their story known,” says student Sophia Cadang.

This truly encouraged me to reflect on how I can use my voice to help vulnerable people like the Yazidis, who have barriers that might be hindering them somehow.

Since 2017, more than 1,400 Yazidi refugees and survivors of Daesh settled in Canada in three major cities — London, Ont.; Winnipeg, Man.; and Calgary. The Yazidis are one of Iraq’s oldest minorities and were persecuted in a genocide by ISIS.

According to Yohanka MacPhie, co-founder and president of Reach YYC, resettlement of the Yazidi refugees in Canada was handled quite differently from other populations because they came as an entire community with families arriving together. In Calgary, there are pockets of Yazidis in Glamorgan, Huntington Hills and Bowness.

The students created a trifold introducing the Yazidi women that was on display at their booth at the Bowness Holiday Market.

The students created a trifold introducing the Yazidi women that was on display at their booth at the Bowness Holiday Market.

“They’re coming from trauma which they are still going through,” she explains. “We have families here that have women who are still in captivity [in Iraq.] We had families going to Iraq last summer to provide DNA samples to identify children and husbands. It’s hardships that you would never think are happening in this day and age. They’re still now discovering mass graves and identifying bodies.”

Instructor Megan D’Souza. BN’18, who led this particular clinical group placement for NURS 289, adds that while the Yazidi refugees have access to specialized care and trauma therapy, what they really need is also that sense of community and engagement.

“I think it's really important that, from a nursing education perspective, our students learn about trauma-informed care and how you build relationships with people, groups and communities who have gone through significant trauma,” D’Souza says. "But also that they recognize what strengths the community has and then they help to mobilize those strengths.”

Through regular meetings with Reach YYC stakeholders and the Yazidi community members, the students chose the holiday market as their project focus. At one point during this semester, D’Souza says three of the Yazidi women — Masaya, Azezah and Aida — brought the students lunch at the Bowness community centre to share their culture. 

“I think the students like really enjoyed that these ladies wanted to share their culture with them and I think it helped the ladies too. They felt appreciated that the students were enjoying their food and that's when we looked more at the different layers of what the market could do.”

Nursing students and the Yazidi work to prepare and assemble goods for sale at the Bowness Community Centre.

Nursing students and the Yazidi work to prepare and assemble goods for sale at the Bowness Community Centre.

Not only was the market an opportunity to help the women sell and generate some income while sharing their culture, it also allowed the Bowness community to learn more about the refugees in their midst. The students took the women shopping for ingredients, assisted in making materials for the booth and handled marketing and promotion as the ladies cooked and prepped the food.

During the two-day market, the students and the Yazidi women sold naan bread, traditional cakes and cookies, and biryani rice kits. Both days, all items sold out and they raised nearly $1,400.

The rice kit idea arose from a challenge they encountered three days before the market when an AHS food inspector notified the group they couldn’t sell cooked rice due to special food handling and refrigeration requirements.

“I realized that most of the ingredients used to make the rice dish are non-perishable,” says Cadang. “So I thought, because we could no longer sell the biryani hot, we could make kits with the dry ingredients (rice, spices, nuts) instead, and whoever buys them could just prepare them at home and add the fresh veggies/protein themselves!”

Cadang’s creative solution showcases putting critical thinking into practice — one of the tenets of this community health nursing course, which is also the first in-person clinical experience in the students' second year.

The Yazidi women made traditional Yazidi baked goods like baksam to sell at their booth at the Bowness Holiday Market in November.

The Yazidi women made traditional Yazidi baked goods like baksam to sell at their booth at the Bowness Holiday Market in November.

“In theory, they’re learning about how to gather assessment data and how to plan out care for a person or community,” says D’Souza. “You analyze what the need of the community is and then you create a diagnosis for the community, then plan out an intervention to meet these mutual health goals and  evaluate it.”

Zain Virani, another student in the group, says, “Just interacting with the Yazidi women and members of the Bowness community through windshield surveys, it really opened my mind. We knew the skills that were hidden within them but we just needed to help them recognize it.”

Cadang says the whole experience has made her vow as a nurse to “help empower vulnerable individuals in any way that I can, whether it be through patient advocacy or simply being present to listen to them."

UCalgary Nursing’s partnership with Reach YYC started thanks to the efforts of Heather Bensler, BN’96, instructor and the faculty's global health lead, who was looking for more ways for nursing students to connect to newcomers in Calgary.

“I think it's really important for our students to see that health is such a complex thing and it can include access to employment, language — all of these things are determinants of health” she says. Of this particular project, Bensler adds that the students looked at the strengths of the community.

“Working with Bowness where they live and doing what we’d call social bridging — that’s social capital that they're building within that community and that's what community health nursing is.”

The documentary film the students created as their community artifact for NURS289.

On Dec. 14, one of the nursing students in this group, Faith Moghaddami, did an Instagram Takeover of the UCalgary Nursing account to showcase her experience in Term 3 which included this community health project experience. Click Term 3 in the highlight reel at the link below.