Bengal News West Reporters
Three rooms in a West Side convent were converted into a waiting room, a doctor’s exam room, and a surgical suite, with cameras ready to roll on a film about going to the doctor. Leaders of the Somali-Bantu people from across the nation gathered to introduce through film, the unfamiliar experience of American health care.
This is just one of the many initiatives going on at the intersection of Grant Street and Lafayette Avenue, where Our Lady of Hope Parish and Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur are helping immigrants bridge the cultural crossroads faced when coming to America.
Sister Kathleen Dougherty runs the afterschool program for Somali-Bantu children who came to Buffalo through refugee camps in Kenya.
“You don't get any education in camps so most of these kids had no first or second grade education at all,” Dougherty said.
|Sister Kathleen Dougherty|
The afterschool program helps students with their school work, but the convent also provides vital educational services for immigrants new to America, struggling from culture shock.
Dougherty also explained that gender roles are another difficulty when adjusting to American life, involvement with the women and mothers in the families is sparse. Dougherty said women do not take part in events outside the home.
“Every day two of the children's fathers are here and they overlook and if there's any difficulty they take care of it in their own language and they keep the children calm because all the Bantu people know each other,” Dougherty said. “I think we have a great understanding of that culture, I mean we’d love to have the women but it’s not part of their culture and you can't force culture on somebody whose culture it isn't, I think in some years to come that will be changed.”
There are talks of new programs geared specifically toward the immigrant women in the community.
“We need to spend more time with women from our church who can speak various languages to be able to translate and to work with folks who might show up. All of this is in process, we haven't nailed it down,” Dougherty said.
At the parish, the specific mission is to bridge the gap of language among the members of the congregation.
There are seven different African nations, speaking five different languages. Most are from Burma, but with different regions of the country come different dialects. The diversity of language has been the church’s most difficult challenge, said the Rev. Greg Gallagher.
The church relies heavily on group leaders from each culture to help with preparation for ceremonies and other necessary communications.
If people leave mass without understanding what was said, retention becomes an issue, Gallagher said.
This week the church welcomed a priest from Myanmar who travels across the globe to visit churches with a large Kareni population.
Sister Susan Bowles, who oversees the religious education program, said this population is in the greatest need.
“The language issue is a challenge, that's why he’s here, he's from Burma. He’s here to primarily focus on the folks in our parish that speak the Karenic language,” Bowles said.
Another initiative taken by the church is to include missals written in the congregation’s native languages. That way even if the mass is given in English, members can read along and understand what is happening.
“One of the things that's happening now is that one of the first readings each Sunday is being done in a different language,” Bowles added.
Bowles, on the variety languages:
In preparation for Easter, masses were held in English, Spanish, Burmese and Swahili.
“We are planning on developing an app that will translate the mass, the homily and short catechetical teaching in for the languages that attend the parish that can also be used around the world,” Gallagher said.
All the initiatives taken are to provide a welcoming environment for the vast amount of cultures on the West Side.
“We want them to know that America wants them here. And we’ll take care of them and we’ll welcome them regardless of what other people say,” Dougherty said.