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Last week, we brought you the story of Caroline Njogu, one of two Kate B. Reynolds Schweitzer Fellows behind the JENGA initiative—a lay health advisor program for North Carolina’s African refugees that focuses on diabetes and hypertension education.

The other Fellow behind JENGA? Njogu’s partner both in life and in the Schweitzer Fellowship, her husband Julius Kibe.

“It is a great opportunity to embark on such an exciting endeavor together,” says Kibe, a student at Duke School of Nursing. “We both have a passion to alleviate health disparities and this opportunity has been very empowering.”

Read on for our interview with Kibe, who says that working with North Carolina’s African refugees has made him “appreciate the resilience of the human spirit and the ability to overcome.”

Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

My background had a major impact in my decision to embark on the JENGA Initiative project. Coming from a country that hosts millions of refugees from surrounding conflict countries, I was in touch with the suffering that refugees face. I had travelled to refugee camps when I was younger and the suffering that refugees face was made very real. I since committed to alleviating health disparities, especially those faced by refugees.

Unfortunately, the small number of refugees that are granted asylum in the US continue to struggle with access to healthcare and disproportionately suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. JENGA uses a peer health educator model to alleviate these disparities in refugee communities.

What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?

The alleviation of disparities in the health status of refugees is an obvious target of the JENGA Initiative. I would eventually like to see the health literacy [initiative] expand to others in the low socio-economic communities that these refugees commonly inhabit.

I believe that even those with little to no resources can make positive health changes if well educated on these issues.

I also want inspire and lead others in the community to realize the impact they can make for those who are less fortunate. Towards this end, we are working to involve college students to sustain the initiative; creating awareness and empowerment.

What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

Our most pressing health issue is the disparity in healthcare delivery that exists globally. There is a need to balance costly medical innovation with delivery systems that allow basic access for all. Any community with superior medical advances will ultimately be affected by one that does not have their basic medical needs met.

Although complicated, this issue can be addressed by first defining what basic healthcare should be for every human being and then striving to deliver it regardless of location, race, politics or socioeconomic status.

What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?

The myriad of opportunities available to me as a student for effecting change has been surprising. I have found that by using key partnerships, one can connect those in need with the help they require and overcome adversity. Working with the refugees has also made me appreciate the resilience of the human spirit and the ability to overcome.

What does being a Schweitzer Fellow mean to you?

Being a Schweitzer Fellow empowers me to be a leader in deducting solutions that address health disparities in my local area and eventually on a global scale. By interaction with other Fellows, and through opportunities by the Fellowship, I am able to develop multidisciplinary solutions to problems affecting health.

Julius Kibe is a Kate B. Reynolds Schweitzer Fellow in North Carolina. Click here to read more about The North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Kibe it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that impact the health of vulnerable communities. To make a gift to The North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program in honor of Kibe’s efforts to improve refugee health, click here.

Each week, Beyond Boulders delivers a new installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow” – an interview series with Schweitzer Fellows across the country and in Gabon, Africa who are leading the movement to eliminate health disparities. For an archive of previous “Five Questions for a Fellow” interviews, click here.

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