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From Burundi, Africa to LIFE Pittsburgh: One Couple’s Journey!

Written by:
Caitlin Bartley & Abigail Mason

Severino Nsaguye and Melida Bucumi are a married couple from Burundi, a small landlocked country in eastern Africa. They were farmers and were displaced when civil war broke out in their country in 1993, which lasted until 2006. They and their children fled by foot to a refugee camp in neighboring Tanzania. Eight of their children are still in Africa. One son, and his family, were brought to the United States.  Severino and Melida joined them in 2015.

With the help of the United Nations and NAMS, Severino and Melida were settled in Pittsburgh in 2015 with their son and his family. In the summer of 2016, Severino was referred to LIFE Pittsburgh. Melida was referred shortly afterward. When they arrived in America, neither of them spoke English.

During their time at LIFE Pittsburgh, Severino and Melida are accompanied by a translator from ECHO International for both their regular center days and doctor appointments outside of the day center.  The Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) and Registered Nurse at LIFE Pittsburgh translated the couple’s pill box to their native language of Kirundi.  The CTRS also made pictures of body parts on labels to be placed on medications to help with the language barrier.  Shortly after they enrolled, the CTRS made a Kirundi-to-English dictionary available to staff to be used in both the center and at home.  Staff was also provided with a website for online translations. 

In 2017, with the translator’s help, the social worker wrote a translation chart with commonly used phrases. The social worker also found a medical picture board to assist with communication. Both resources were used to build upon the Kirundi dictionary.

In the beginning of 2017, the CTRS started the Kirundi “Word of the Week”. A Kirundi word was introduced to staff and other participants each week. While amongst their peers in recreation, the other participants would learn the Kirundi word while Severino and Melida would practice the English word. That word is a way to communicate with the couple in their language, while also encouraging them to learn English.

The social worker also assisted the couple in obtaining their own apartment.  The couple was living with their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in one house and needed a more accessible and appropriate place to live.  The social worker was able to assist the couple to obtain a senior apartment.  The social worker and translator went with the couple to review and sign the lease.  Upon moving in, the social worker made a referral to ‘Off the Floor’ charity to obtain furniture.  The Life Pittsburgh Chaplain was also able to assist with obtaining basic household items through various charities.  The social worker and Chaplain assisted in setting up the apartment and teaching the couple how to use some of their new items.  When Severino was asked about his new apartment, he said “I feel like I am home.”

Both Severino and Melida have expressed their gratefulness for LIFE Pittsburgh and the center programing. Recreation staff has provided activities that would fit their cultural needs.  For example, an African drum circle will be scheduled during their center time.  Severino quickly takes the lead in the drum circle with the other participant’s following his lead.  The couple was also quick to learn the word ‘Bingo!’  They are pleased with the medical care and are happy that they can come to LIFE Pittsburgh staff with their concerns.

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