Buffalonian of the Week: Pamela Kefi

From now on Karibu News will be bringing to you on this page “Buffalonian of the Week” a person of our choosing to share with the world an ordeal, consternation, milestone, epiphany, or particular aspects of his or her personal or professional life. This week, Karibu News presents Pamela Kefi, Director of Program Development and Integration at the Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Buffalo and Erie County. Having been around refugees for many years, Pamela who used to be a case worker and executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo did not want to talk much about her personal life than the activities of JFS.

Karibu News: Thanks Director for having us in here. Would you like to tell the public a bit about your agency?

Pamela Kefi: Thanks. The JFS is one of the four refugee resettlement agencies that operate in the city of Buffalo. Although historically the center has been mainly dealing with Jewish immigrants, today, most of our clients come from other parts of the world. Like I said, we are one of the four agencies that provide services to refugees and asylum seekers in the city. The only difference is that we have a center for survival of torture, which is a collaboration of multiple programs through which we serve people affected by stress, trauma, PTSD, or other problems related to torture, employment, integration, and other issues in their present or past life.

Does UNHCR send refugees to you under the pre-knowledge that you have a center that deals with refugees who have been victim of torture, PTSD or other similar issues?

Sometimes, yes. But most of our referrals do not come from new arrivals, we get referrals from other local refugee agencies such as Journey’ End or Catholic Charities, and these are people who have been living in the community for a long time and some of them are not just refugees but also asylum seekers. In fact, we have refugees and asylum seekers in our torture treatment program. Although our funders require status, but we use other programs to assist them. We also have people who live in shelter and they are in difficult conditions.

Do you have a shelter like Viva La Casa to accommodate some of your clients?

No, we work with them and we have a little office at Viva to see and help some of these clients.

Do they still charge people for shelter?

No, they don’t. Now Viva has been taken over by Jericho Road since, Viva went out of business. So, if they were charging people before, they do not it now. Again it depends on circumstances. But they are people who just don’t have money and they can’t kick them out for that. It is hard for people we deal with to afford it. These people have gone through a lot in their lives and we need to give them back the dignity they deserve. When people have gone through these hard experiences and have lost control of their lives, we need to help them to live with dignity and have control of their lives even in those environments.

How do you assess the degree of trauma of your clients in order to provide an adequate service?

Thanks to our partnership with the University of Buffalo Family Medicine Research Institute we do a good job of collecting and analyzing data properly in order to determine the real conditions of our clients and this works well because of the partnership we have with UB as well as Jericho Road.

Based on your expertise is there among your clients any specific group that seems to be the most affected by these post traumatic problems and what process to you follow to heal them.

All I can tell you is that for a year and half that we have been operating, we have seen more of these cases among Iraqis and Congolese. We do a lot of outreach and I think we naturally develop our client base because of the language skills of our staff who can speak well Arabic and French. I hope that we expand our language skills in order to reach out to other groups too.

What kind of technique do you apply to treat your clients?

There are specific things we do. First, let me back up a little bit to say that the center is a collaboration and coordination of activities of Journey’s End legal department, UB Family Medicine Research Institute, and the Jewish Family Center. So, after a care coordination which involves a 30-day assessment; we look at the domain of a person’s life, education, employment, family dynamic, health and wellness, to have a broad understanding of the person in order to determine the best way to provide service. For example, if we discover that employment is the issue, we see how to find a job; what types of work is appropriate and what type of workplace conditions are good for the client. We also do a lot of psycho education, meaning we teach clients about the effect of torture, trauma, stress; we talk about PTSD, diet, and sleep. If some need therapy, we connect them with our clinic or therapist. We also do forensic evaluation for clients who seek asylum including head-to-toe physical examination, we produce photographs of torture signs or wounds scars thanks to well-trained doctors and human rights organizations. We gather information that can validate our asylum seekers’ stories in the court room.

How do you measure your results?

We use a knowledge based tool called the Arizona Self-sufficiency Matrix that our care coordinators also use to measure the strength of a person in a certain area of his/her life. The other thing we look at is a sort of client satisfaction survey to know how many people are served in a given span of time and what their current status is. In some cases we have clients who come to us and say “thank you I think I feel better now I don’t need you anymore”, that is a good gauge for success.

Your last word.

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak about JFS as well as the various services we offer to refugees and asylum seekers in the city.

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