Somali Women’s Wellness Project: Nursing At Its Best

I am writing this post with a newly hennaed hand, given to me today by a talented Somali woman at Harborview’s Daryel Project. Daryel roughly translates as “Wellness” in Somali. Bria Chakofsky-Lewey, a community health nurse at Harborview Medical Center’s Community House Calls Program, started the project several years ago. The Community House Calls Program provides interpreters and cultural mediators for the different immigrant/refugee populations in the Seattle area.

In her work with Somali women, Bria was noticing that many of the women had complaints of pain that doctors were unable to treat through medication or physical therapy. She suspected that massage would be more culturally acceptable and effective for addressing the women’s pain—but it needed to be massage adapted to the women’s religious beliefs and cultural practices. She couldn’t just send the Somali women off to some hippy-dippy massage practice and expect it to work. Bria also knew from her work with the women that they suffered from isolation in this strange new country and big city of Seattle. Many had also experienced multiple traumas in their homeland, and the psychic effects of these traumas could be expressed as body pain. So she started Daryel with the help of female Somali interpreters/cultural brokers.

The Daryel program is offered every Sunday afternoon at a community center/senior center in Rainier Valley/ south Seattle. Today there were about a dozen Somali women who brought traditional food to share. They usually have group yoga sessions as well as individual/private massage, mixed in with wellness/health information.

This past summer I attended one of their yoga group sessions, and found them refreshingly raucous—the women really enjoy talking to each other and laughing as they try out yoga poses. Happy yoga instead of the usual overly serious yoga usually experienced. (For wonderful photo documentation of Daryel—and visual proof of happy yoga–check out Seattle Times photographer Erika Schultz’s photos here). Today, one of the Somali women commented that when Bria had first introduced the idea of yoga, she had been skeptical—but now she looked forward to it and felt refreshed afterwards. Another Somali woman at today’s session told everyone that she was there because her doctor referred her to the program.

Daryel is always on the lookout for additional volunteer female massage therapists. On the Sundays when they can’t get a massage therapist, the women sit in a circle and give each other backrubs. It is an amazingly uplifting program and a fine example of what


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