Pushpa Gurung came to the United States in 2010 with the goal of building a better future for herself and her family.
Gurung, originally from Bhutan, spent 18 years in refugee camps in Nepal before arriving in the U.S. in 2010. Today, she devotes her life to helping other members of the large Bhutanese immigrant population in Harrisburg find a better future for themselves as well.
“The Bhutanese community in the Harrisburg area consists of about 5,000 people, a large percentage of which are not able to understand, read or write English,” said Gurung, 39. “They aren’t able to read their mail or fill out insurance forms or make a doctor’s appointment. I made it my goal to help as many members of the community as I could.”
To increase her skills and improve her ability to assist others with essential life tasks, Gurung was among the first 12 students to complete the Community Health Worker Training Program at Temple University Harrisburg. The highly successful program, originally developed by the Center for Social Policy and Community Development (CSPCD) at Temple’s Main Campus, was offered for the first time at Harrisburg this fall.
“Temple Harrisburg is assisting CSPCD in expanding its Community Health Worker (CHW) training program to Harrisburg and other rural and underserved communities in eastern and central Pennsylvania through a Health Careers Opportunities Program grant from the U.S. Department of Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration,” said Susan Washinger, Coordinator for the Community Health Worker Training Program in the Capitol Region. “Community health worker isn’t necessarily a new field, but more and more, communities in the United States are beginning to understand their value. It a growing field with the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industry joining in the conversation.”
According to Washinger, community health workers “generally come from the communities they serve and therefore are uniquely prepared to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services.”
“They typically work with diverse communities who are most at risk of illness, disability and death. They often act as liaisons between health and social services and the community, facilitating access to services and improving the quality and cultural competence of service delivery,” she said. “They work to increase knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support and advocacy.”
Gurung, for example, has spent the last two years as a board member of the organization Bhutanese Community in Harrisburg, assisting members of the community with basic quality of life necessities to helping individuals prepare for citizenship tests.
“I want to be able to help the community as a career and Temple’s program has improved my skills and given me so many resources to build on — I believe I can do so much more for my community now,” she said. “For the past several years, I’ve been able to assist and support my community indirectly; now I want to do it professionally. Many other members of the Bhutanese community have become very interested in the Community Health Worker program and I think it would be of great benefit to them.”
Temple’s 130-hour Community Health Worker Training Program builds core competencies for students wishing to seek employment in a community health work role, Washinger said.
Core competencies include: communication and interpersonal skills, a knowledge base of community health issues and services, service coordination, capacity-building, advocacy, teaching and organizational skills.
“The course covers important communication skills, community resourcing and asset mapping and healthcare topics including ethical, legal and technical areas,” she said. “Students are assessed with a patient simulation experience, a group presentation, written exams and homework assignments, as well as classroom participation. The program schedule is very flexible — we schedule it completely around the needs of the students.”
Successful candidates will have the opportunity to receive a tuition scholarship to earn 3.0 undergraduate college credits for the course from Temple University’s School of Social Work, Washinger said.
“Personal characteristics, in combination with resourcefulness, are definitely valued in the candidates we seek,” she said. “A person that voluntarily checks on a sick or elderly neighbor or someone that is the caregiver/nurturer among his or her family and friends are the ideal candidates for the Community Health Worker program.”
Wanda Holland, who graduated from the Community Health Worker Program with Gurung, has devoted much of her life to helping others as a family coach and home visitor and volunteer for the Salvation Army’s summer camp and after school programs.
“My goal with entering the program was to give myself the skills necessary to effectively help more clients. I was able to refresh the skills I already have developed while also developing brand new tools,” said Holland, who also completed the program with her daughter Mayleighsha Brummell. “I never knew there were so many resources available to help community members if you know where to look for them and how to put them into action. I’ve learned how to engage a little longer and ask more questions to solve problems.”
Holland views the program as a “catapult” toward her future.
“I’m an advocate. I’m a fighter. I want to brainstorm solutions to what can be very difficult problems,” she said. “Now I would like to land a job in the field and go back to school to become more successful and more well-rounded in my ability to help those in need.
For more information about the Community Health Worker Training Program, contact Susan Washinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-221-1638.