BYU student helps refugee regain mobility

Ashley and Jessica (without damac)

Ashley Jones and Jessica Lewis at a refugee’s apartment.

After six months of staying on the first floor with a broken leg, BYU College of Nursing student Ashley Jones helped Damac, a Somalian refugee, to the upstairs of her apartment. When Damac saw how messy it was, she exclaimed, “Oh, it’s dirty!”

Damac, a refugee from Somalia, slipped on ice and broke her leg. The doctors inserted screws in her knee and ankle from the break, leaving her bedridden, but with inner strength and help from Jones and nursing student Jessica Lewis, she regained her mobility.

Damac’s inner strength did not develop overnight. She spent most of her life in war-torn Africa. According to her husband, Farhan, about 10 percent of the population is educated, and the other 90 percent is fighting over land and animals.

The danger forced Damac and her family to leave Somalia. Farhan traveled across six countries for two months. “He was…hiding in the forests, eating biscuits and water,” said Jones. “That’s it.”

Farhan worked in South Africa for four years until he had enough to bring his family, which took only 20 days via safe travel. After 13 years in South Africa, they went to the UN for resettlement. He said they did not choose Utah. “No, we just got very lucky.”

The adjustment proved to be difficult. It is hard to believe that anyone would not know how to use a refrigerator or open a can of soup, but for refugees, these are foreign obstacles to survival.

Despite the cultural differences, Damac is adjusting and helping others. “Their resilience as a family has been really amazing,” said Jones. “They are very good about reaching out to the other families that come in.”

Damac began making progress with walking as her family began to push her. “She has demonstrated a consistency…which is great because we were really focused on helping her,” Jones said.

Jones taught Damac some simple, effective exercises involving cheap, make-shift equipment. For example, a bag of peas became an icepack and rice in a sock became a heating pad. For her foot, a water bottle converted itself into a physical therapy roller. “We’ve really tried not to do anything for them that they can’t do themselves,” said Jones. “We will always interact with people throughout our lives that may not have all the advantages that they need.”

Jones said she loved the experience because it taught her to work with people from different backgrounds. “The biggest reason why I chose to go with the refugees is that…I can see in the future how valuable, not just in nursing, but in every aspect of my life, how important something like this is.”

Ashley and Jessica

Ashley Jones and Jessica Lewis help Damac regain her mobility.

Each year in its public and global health nursing course, the BYU College of Nursing sends some of its capstone students to the Refugee and Immigrant Center at the Asian Association of Utah (RIC-AAU) for clinical experience. Approximately 1,000 refugees come to Utah each year, and the number of refugees sent to Salt Lake City has reached about 25,000.

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