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Understanding the Needs of African Elderly Immigrants!

Understanding the Needs of Elderly African Immigrants focuses on African immigrant elders’ culture, religion, and spirituality in the United States. The ultimate aim is to provide a resource guide on African immigrant elders for the social workers, nurs

Deborah Ocloo

on 16 September 2011

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Transcript of Understanding the Needs of African Elderly Immigrants!

Resource Guide on African Immigrant Elders' Culture, Religion, and Spirituality in Central Minnesota! The resource guide may be used by a variety of audiences, and
can be tailored to the interests and educational backgrounds
of service providers. The objective of the resource guide is to reach
a broad cross-section of central Minnesota’s service providers.
Some of the groups who may benefit from the resource
Service providers including those •• who work with family
violence, drug addiction, mental health, housing, and
•• Professionals such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists,
bankers, lawyers, and police officers.
•• Community leaders.
•• “Gatekeepers” (people who have regular contact with
older adults, e.g., postal workers, business operators, and
Pastor Komla Ocloo
landlords); employers of people caring for older adults at
•• Staff at senior centers.
•• Crisis line and telephone referral volunteers.
•• Staff and management at long-term care facilities or in
emergency care settings.
•• Public policy makers.
•• Religious leaders.
The appendix includes contact information and details for
selected organizations, publications, and websites. The format
of the resource guide is intended to allow for constant updating
by individual users as new resources are generated. This resource
guide can be used in conjunction with other resources already
available. The Role of the Community in
Helping African Immigrant Elders! The central Minnesota community can provide support for
African immigrant elders by assisting with transportation,
delivering meals at home, visiting homemakers or home nursing
care, financial or legal advice, counseling, and day programs.
Many of these services may not be available in rural or isolated
communities. In those cases, the role of supporting African
immigrant elders may fall on staff and volunteers from public
health clinics, community centers or religious organizations. African Immigrant Refugees’
Experience in the United States Immigrant refugees often flee their homes with no time for
preparation. They leave behind almost everything, including
professional documents, photographs, and other valuable items.
Far worse, they often leave behind family members. Immigrant
refugees often do not trust people other than family members
and close friends. Immigrant refugees are people without homes.
Eventually, after many years in refugee camps, they receive
permission to settle in the United States and begin adapting to a
new culture and a new language. It is often difficult to recognize the effect traditional beliefs
have on professional and personal relationships. It is difficult
to admit to ourselves that we have certain biases. Religious service
providers dealing with African immigrant elders can let personal
values affect their responses to clients. A person’s value system
affects decision-making, and service providers need to recognize
and reconcile their values with their responsibilities. This may
require a change in deep-seated attitudes. African Christianity The growth of Christianity in Africa in recent years has been
spectacular. The availability and appeal of the Bible has
been identified as a major contributor to the phenomenal growth
of Christianity in Africa. Given the oral tradition of African
Christians and the literary tradition the Bible represents, the
interaction between the Bible and culture in African Christianity is
intriguing. Christian social service providers in central Minnesota
must help Christian elder refugees resolve the disconnect between
the Bible and African cultures.
This part of the book will assist service providers to understand
how to help individual elder refugees adjust to their new lives and
accomplish their goals.
In this section, service providers will have an opportunity to
assess African immigrant elder’s major challenges. In addition,
this chapter will provides some concrete advice for institutions,
government agencies, nonprofits, funders, and religious
corporations that wish to better serve refugees communities. Major Challenges The major challenges confronting African elderly immigrants
•• Weather
•• Loss
•• Lack of Transportation
•• Health Problems
•• Language Barriers
Understanding the Needs of Elderly African Immigrants
•• Cultural Competency
•• Dress in Muslim Tradition
•• Food
•• Time
•• Touch and Its Social Implications
•• Handshakes or Greetings
•• The Use of the Left Hand
•• Music
•• Respect for Older People
•• Eye Contact
•• Culture Shock Weather Coping with major change in climate is a big adjustment for
new refugees at the arrival stage, many of whom come from
much warmer places. Some elders are excited to see and touch
snow for the first time in their lives. I remember when my plane left
Ghana in 2003, it was 75°F; when I arrived at the Minneapolis/
Saint Paul international airport, it was –32°F. I had not prepared
for this kind of frigid weather. One of my friends provided a jacket
for me. But even my borrowed winter jacket was not meant for
that temperature. Climate was the first of many differences I had
to adapt to. Loss Some African immigrant elders feel a sense of loss after arrival.
This sense of loss is compounded by social isolation. New
African immigrant elders face language and cultural barriers.
Some new African immigrant elders live in apartments surrounded
by people from cultures other than their own. Some are afraid
of using public transportation because they fear getting lost. In
addition, they often do not read or speak English, so written signs
and assistance from English-only speakers cannot be understood. Lack of Transportation In their home countries, some African immigrant elders traveled
by foot from one village to another. While others lived in large
cities, African immigrant elders still have problems negotiating
new transportation systems. Language and communication
barriers also limit their ability to get a driver’s license, read signs,
or communicate with others.
Having one’s own transportation or knowing how to use
public transportation helps African immigrant elders succeed.
Sometimes elders have to depend on their children or friends
whenever they want to go to somewhere. What happens if their
children work two or three jobs and have no time for their parents’
needs? In winter, elders often have no choice but to stay home,
which leads to boredom and isolation; both causes of depression
among the African immigrant elder population. Service providers
should teach elders how to use public transit. Health Problems Health problems related to a lack of food, medicine, and
water are common among elderly immigrants. Refugees
often suffer from depression as a result of removal, loss, or physical
torture. Physical and mental health problems often accompany a
refugee to their new homeland. Many Somali elders suffer from
diabetes due to an inability to digest refined sugars and other foods
and a lack of exercise. Some elderly immigrants do not want to share
their health problems with people other than family members,
including doctors. Others have never visited doctors, or years have
passed since their last checkup. Others do not believe in Western
medicine, and have their own systems of medicine. Sometimes
the health care system does not provide elder immigrants with
accessible services, either linguistically or culturally. Some diseases
did not exist in the refugees’ homeland. In some cases, a refugee’s
culture might have a different explanation for a given illness, and
this can increase misunderstanding. Language Barriers Language barriers often prevent elderly immigrants and the
service providers who help them from understanding each
other. Some elderly immigrants simply have not yet learned to
communicate effectively in English. Many service providers likely
speak one language—a language problem of their own. Both elderly
immigrants and Americans have language difficulties that prevent
them from working effectively together. The elderly immigrants
often must learn how to understand people who speak English
with an accent. Cultural Competency Cultural Competency
Every human being is a member of one or more cultures. These
cultures influence an individual’s beliefs, practices, behaviors,
and personality. A person who has cultural competency has
specific knowledge of other people’s cultures, backgrounds, values,
and beliefs, as well as skill in obtaining cultural knowledge which
he or she lacks (Kohls, 1996).
Cultural competency helps eliminate, overcome, or reduce
cultural barriers when working with diverse groups. For instance,
most Somalis, Ethiopians, and Sudanese share the same language,
religion, and culture, but they are divided into groups by a
deeply-rooted clan structure. Because of deep clan divisions, a
person who works with one group of elderly refugees and then
tries to generalize his or her experience to apply to all can meet
with devastating failure. In general, cultural differences often lead
to misunderstanding or misinterpretation of messages between
people of different cultures. One’s culture encodes specific
nonverbal behaviors or body languages, which represent specific
thoughts, feelings, and meanings. Different interpretations of
body language are among the most difficult problems in any
cross-cultural communication. Dress in Muslim Tradition In Islamic tradition, dress is important for Somali women and men. For example, women are expected to wear hijab, a dress that covers the body except for the hands and face. Men should also wear clothes that cover the body between waist and knees. Both sexes are to start dressing this way when they are between seven and nine years old. Why is food so important for new elderly immigrants? Food
can be a major issue for new arrivals. The human body
adapts to food from a particular locale. In the United States, many
food portions are very large and the diet has a lot of fat, sugar, and
salt. The result of an American diet for some immigrants is an
increase in obesity and related diseases such as diabetes.
Food is one of the important elements of Muslim culture and
religion. Islamic tradition prohibits the consumption of pork or
alcohol. The most common foods in Muslim tradition include rice,
beef, beans, and goat meat. Different Concepts of Time Time concepts vary widely from one culture to the next.
Americans who do not have experience with elderly
immigrants often grow impatient with what they perceive as
wasted time. Here Americans need to understand different
approaches to time. Elderly refugees also ought to learn and adapt
the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of American people relating
to time. Most American people tend to perceive time as a linear
movement. In contrast, most elderly African immigrant do not use
clocks or calendars as important determinants of their actions and
priorities. They perceive time as a circular movement, and believe
that time will come back tomorrow, next season, or next year.
Service providers must remember that each individual and each
group of people is different. There may be a need for providers
to know their clients’ attitude toward time and adjust their work
processes accordingly. Touch and Its Social Implications Some Americans are uncomfortable with touching among
non-family members. For some Africans, greetings that
include hugs or kisses, along with touching, generally between
the same sexes during conversation, are standard ways to convey
connection. These actions can cause discomfort and negative
reactions in cultures that are not touch-oriented, such as the case
with Muslim women. Handshakes or Greetings Handshakes are recognized as a standard means of greeting
throughout the world. How people shake hands however,
can carry unintended meanings. In the Muslim culture, handshakes
across gender are not acceptable except between spouses. Some
elderly Muslims may have difficulties when they meet Americans
who do not know the Muslim tradition. They often cannot explain
this matter because of language barriers.
Greetings are very important in Africa. When a person fails
to greet, African elders say he is not friendly or not polite. Such a
person has no respect for others, or maybe he has not been trained
well by his parents. Greetings bring people together. In Africa, a
person does not greet only those he knows. A good African greets
anybody, whether he is familiar or not. When a younger person
greets an older person, the older responds and offers a polite
inquiry regarding the greeter’s health. Usually younger people do
not ask older people such questions, unless they know the older
person is not well.
Every greeting has a response. The greetings and the responses
bring the two people closer together. Greetings are important in
bringing peace between people. When two people quarrel, older
people try to bring them together. They make sure the two people
shake hands and greet each other any time they meet. The Use of the Left Hand In Africa, it is generally good to greet or shake hands with the
right hand, and not the left hand. Africans do not use the left
hand to do anything, especially in the sight of an older person.
African elders believe that the left hand is not clean. It is taboo in
West Africa to use the left hand to point something out to people,
or make a sign to call people. If they must use the left hand because
the right hand is busy, they are expected to apologize and explain
why using the left hand was necessary. Music African people love music. They show their feelings and actions
through songs, drumming, and dancing. You can tell whether
an African is happy or sad when he sings or dances. Most African
songs are accompanied with drumming and dancing. Some are
sung on occasions such as funerals, festivals, or marriages. Others
are sung as part of ritual storytelling. Some traditional African jobs
have songs that go with them. Fishermen, for example, enjoy pulling
their nets with music, and some farmers sing while weeding. Respect for Older People In some African societies, a young person wearing a hat or
cap must remove their headwear when greeting elders. When
entering the rooms of an elder, young people are expected to remove
their sandals. These are just two examples of honoring one’s elders,
both important to know when working with African immigrants.
Another example: when adults are conversing, children are not
allowed to take part unless they are invited to do so. Children
should also note that it is good for them to give their seats to adults
when necessary. Children must help adults, especially the old men
and women, whenever possible. For example, when children see
adults carrying loads, they are expected to help them. Eye Contact Eye contact is understood to indicate interest and forthrightness
among most Americans. But in Africa, avoidance of
direct and prolonged eye contact is generally a sign of respect.
Misinterpretation of the meaning of eye contact can lead to serious
misunderstandings between people of different cultures. Culture Shock Culture shock is a common problem that almost every new
refugee faces. There are few immigrant refugees who realize
the extent of the challenge of culture shock. Most new immigrants
do not anticipate shock or understand that it can come from many
factors, such as language, weather, food, and culture. Sometimes
culture shock causes depression, and depression can exacerbate
other problems. Summary The foregoing categories are broad sketches of the challenges
that face African immigrant elders to central Minnesota.
If elders can find solutions as they adjust to a new culture, they
can advance personally and professionally. The nature of one’s
individual challenges are diverse and subtle, and depend on the
age, educational background, services received, family support,
and home culture of a new arrival. For this reason, no single set
of guidelines applies to their experiences or the kinds of help they
need. It is important to listen to and understand the individual
stories, backgrounds, cultures, and needs of African immigrant
elders. The central Minnesota community that receives them, and
especially service providers, must learn about their challenges,
assist them where possible, and come to understand new neighbors
as the potential assets they are. Food Lack of transportation Major Challenges Values and Beliefs American African Biography of Pastor Ocloo Who is Pastor Komla Happy Ocloo? My name is Pastor Komla Happy Ocloo and I came from Togo, West Africa. I am married and have three girls. I Received Christ in 1986, ever since than God has led my heart to defend abused, fatherless, motherless and abondoned children and to restore broken families. to respond to his great noble call, i received training through the "Child Evangelism Fellowship" in Ghana "West Africa" in 1988. In 1991, I graduated from "Haggai Institute" in Singapore with a certificate in advanced leadership training.
Ever since, I have worked with many churches on invitation to preach, teach and train. I also did some mission trips in Amsterdam, Germany..... In 2000, I officially found a Christian organization called "Child and Family Foundation" in Togo. I have goals to see families relationships soundly restores and to conduct research and training regarding families.
To embrace life and advanced my work in United State, in 2007 I obtained a Bachelor degree in Theology in South Carolina at "Open Bible Institute and Seminaries". In 2009, I obtained my Master Degree in Gerontology (based on psychology, sociology and health of the Aging population) from Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota. In January 2010, the lord called me to open "God Is Able Christian Church" in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Contact Info:
E-mail Pastor Happy at
Cell #: (320)310-6977 My Published Book Book purchase sites:
Barnes & N0bles
Please contact me for more information(s). Thank You!
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