COVID-19 awareness, support and empowerment: SE Wisconsin immigrant outreach

May 19, 2022

Sandra Millon Underwood
RN, PhD, FAAN Professor Emerita, UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, our focus has been on helping and educating individuals about the virus and safety precautions to take. Over the last couple of years, we have focused on initiatives undertaken by community leaders, frontline workers, medical professionals, and others who are working diligently to ensure accurate information about COVID-19 reaches the masses. There is, however, another population that has been quietly working to ensure science-based information is reaching their community and that their needs are being met— immigrants.

One person who is working with the immigrant community is Isaac Ashun.

Isaac Ashun

Originally from Ghana West Africa, Ashun came to the United States in 2001 and became a naturalized citizen in 2007. Through his involvement with the Ghanaian Milwaukee Association, Ashun has worked to ensure fellow Ghanaians receive timely, accurate information about COVID-19. As a trusted leader in that community, Ashun meets his fellow Ghanaians “where they are,” as he shares information and resources in a manner that is respectful of their culture and eliminates language barriers. Ashun and members of his organization have also helped ensure that people in his homeland of Ghana receive items to help them stay safe during the pandemic.

“During the pandemic, the Ghanaian Milwaukee Association has reached out to immigrants through faith-based organizations, college campuses, and oneon- one meetings to ensure they receive scientific information and have access to vaccinations. We have also held numerous fundraising events to purchase Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to send to Ghana. These items are not free in my homeland. People living in Ghana must purchase PPE items, if they want them. Unfortunately, they are more concerned about meeting basic needs such as securing food to feed their families, so allocating resources to purchase proper PPE is not a priority for most of them,” said Ashun.

The Ghanaian Milwaukee Association has held fundraising drives to purchase items like sanitizer, face masks and other health supplies to send to that country.

“We don’t just ship the items to Ghana, we usually work with someone from our community who is planning a trip there. One of our members will coordinate with a point person in Ghana to ensure these items get to orphanages or other organizations in need,” said Ashun.

Two other naturalized immigrants from Cameroon West Africa (almost 1,000 miles from Ghana West Africa), said that they too have been working with Cameroon immigrants in the community to keep them informed about COVID-19 mandates and safety measures.

While individuals from Cameroon have not been negatively affected by COVID-19 as much as people living in the United States, Christiana Attere, a retired community health worker, and Collins Tabifor, a nurse, have worked diligently to ensure that Cameroon immigrants living in Wisconsin understand the seriousness of coronavirus and are getting vaccinated.

Christiana Attere

Christiana Attere, a naturalized citizen from Cameroon, also visited relatives from that country last year. She said that people were surprised that she was wearing a mask because most people living in Cameroon do not.

“People in Cameroon are walking about with little fear about COVID-19; it has not affected that population as much as it has people in the United States. I did not really understand the reason for this, so I asked my doctor. He told me that could be attributed to the fact that Cameroon people have healthier lifestyles— they primarily eat organic, green vegetables and they walk everywhere. He said their low risk of contracting coronavirus is a result of healthy diet and stronger immune systems,” said Attere.

Collins Tabifor

Collins Tabifor, also from Cameroon, agrees with that assessment.

“People in Cameroon primarily live outdoors; they are not on top of one another indoors, because they spend the majority of their time in open air. They eat healthier foods and are active. The women walk to and from the market on a daily basis for food because food is not refrigerated in Cameroon. It makes sense that COVID-19 has not affected them that much. They have not had the COVID-19 related outbreaks or experienced the deaths that we have in America,” said Tabifor.

In Milwaukee, while there is a growing number of West African immigrants, naturalized citizens continue to work directly with them to ensure they have the support and assistance they need. That support extends to distributing PPE and scientifically based information about COVID-19.

Milwaukee Cameroonian Community

“We work with the immigrants to make sure they are aware of recommendations and mandates passed down by the CDC. We follow the science, communicate this information to them and, through groups like the COVID-19 Awareness, Support and Empowerment Collaborative, who provide us with free PPE, we are able to distribute masks, sanitizers, tissues, disinfectant towelettes, and other items. We dispense these items to our people through outreach efforts such as churches, community centers, schools, and other institutions.

COVID-19 Community Outreach

“I am a naturalized citizen, so I have a job and health insurance. Those who are not yet naturalized do not have access to health care. They are more vulnerable. That’s why we hold fundraisers to help them if they get sick or need supplies. So far, we have not had a large outbreak of coronavirus in our community and only a few deaths. That is because we work hard to ensure our community knows how to stay safe—by following the science and getting vaccinated,” said Ashun.

The COVID-19 Awareness, Support and Empowerment Project aims to ensure that no one is left without and that no one is left behind. For information about the project contact Dr. Underwood at underwoo@uwm.edu.