NewsLink Summer 2016 - Page 4

“She has helped me with everything, counting kicks and having a healthy pregnancy. She helps me with OB appointments and food assistance,” Tin Tin said.

The language barrier is challenging, especially when the two are trying to discuss complex concepts. But an interpreter accompanies Amanda on all visits with non-English speakers, who now comprise one-third of her caseload.

“They want to learn everything, like how your baby can hear you. We have these little fetal models. Many have never seen an ultrasound picture before. It’s hard to imagine that you’ve never seen what a baby looks like in utero,” Amanda said.

Several hundred miles away in South Dakota, the rural town of Huron, population 13,133, has become an unlikely haven for Karen refugees.

A turkey processing plant called Dakota Provisions found Karen refugees to be excellent workers. So the company sponsored refugees and more kept coming. Today at least 2,000 of Huron’s residents are Karen, giving the town one of the highest concentrations of Karen refugees anywhere in the U.S.

As the influx accelerated, the Nurse-Family Partnership program under South Dakota’s Department of Health adapted.

Shelly Freese is the nurse supervisor at the Bright Start Home Visiting Program. She raves about all that her two nurses have done to better serve Karen clients since their rural team launched in 2013.

Every month, nurses Amy Mattke and Desiree Rand attend new refugee orientations at a local church. They have toured the turkey plant, visited Karen church services, soccer games and New Year’s celebrations and have offered hospital tours for all non-English speaking pregnant women.

The team has translated as many documents as possible into Karen including consent forms, program information and menus. The nurses have learned to write the days of the week in Karen and try to greet their clients with a few words in Karen.

The biggest breakthrough is coming now with in-person interpreters. In the past, there have been some funny miscommunications, including one with a male phone interpreter.

Along with being a nurse, Amy is also a lactation consultant and on one visit, brought a model of a breast. She showed it to her client and said, “This is my breast and this is how you put the baby to the breast.”

The phone line went dead silent.

“The mom and I were dying laughing. The interpreter thought I just whipped out my breast,” Amy said.

Both nurses have found that clients engage more and ask more questions with in-person interpreters.

While communication is the biggest challenge, Amy and Desiree say their clients are dedicated mothers who benefit from supportive families. They revere nurses and consider a home visit a great honor. Often at a first appointment, 15 family members will gather around.


Special thanks to interpreters: Sa Ray Htoo in South Dakota and Mtee Paw in Iowa.

Photography by Bright Start Home Visiting Program.

Say Kprew Paw with her daughter, Juli Joy, and Say's

sister-in-law, Hei Khu Paw, with her daughter, Angelina