Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Ok, But Where Are You Originally From?"

Kamana Khadka
          August 15, 2013 marked Hamro America’s first 4-hour cultural competency workshop.  With 112 registered participants, facilitating Diversity Leadership Alliance’s (DLA) August workshop was a thrill of a lifetime for me personally.  March 29, 2013 was when we got our first break to facilitate two sessions, 90 minutes each, at the Eighth Annual Cesar Chavez Conference. With few other facilitation, presentation, and consultation opportunities along the way, this was our first ‘big fish.’  As an agency, less than a year old, we loved every bite of it.  We are not stopping here.  We are going National - to Philadelphia this October.
         One of the innovative pieces in this 4-hour workshop was the title itself “Ok, But where Are You Originally From?”  Over the course of my stay in America, first as an international student and later as a working professional, this particular question has developed a deeper significance in my life.  I am usually a very patient person. There are very few things that I just cannot stand and one of those is being asked the question, “Where Are You Originally From?”
         Don’t get me wrong.  It is not so much about the question. It is about what follows the question.
         “Wow, you don’t have an accent.”
         The complete stranger after having asked me the question either compliments me for speaking English so well or they look at me as though I don’t understand English at all.  Even after 10-15 minutes of good conversation, I have experienced almost reactive additions of elaborated hand gestures as soon as I disclose - “I am originally from Nepal.”
         I am a proud Nepalese, a woman, a passionate learner of culture, a fierce advocate for diversity, a Nepali language speaker, a firstborn daughter, a volunteer English as a Second Language Instructor, often unprepared but excited traveller, a hater of injustice, a non-profit worker, a public health student, a loyal friend to the refugees and immigrants, a lifelong learner, and apparently brave enough to explore arranged marriages in recent days.
         So, the stranger’s question and/or reaction doesn’t describe me. At all. 
         During the August 15th workshop, one of the participants from a Hispanic/Caucasian background shared a question she was repeatedly asked as a child by her classmates in school.
         The question was – “What are you?”
         In the audience was a participant from an Asian/American background who was shaken to the core of her being, after listening to this question.  She was so affected and in disbelief that she openly expressed her emotions.  We spent some time exploring the “What are you?” question. But unless we educate each ‘culturally blind’ individual, the same question is going to be asked to someone else in some other form.  At my workshops, not only do I share my experiences but I make you dig into yourself and share yours also.  It is called co-learning.  This is the only way you can learn to celebrate diversity.  Trust me.            
         For the reasons that population of people like me is growing exponentially in today’s America, recognizing the diversity of culture and different ways of life has become unavoidable. In exploring the loaded baggage that comes with “Ok, But Where Are You Originally From?” question, we also looked at cultural competency in a continuum.  We explored the dynamics of differences and we came up with our own tools and strategies for cultural competency.
         Below is a collective/combined list of strategies the groups came up with:
·      Hold cultural competency workshop as on-going training to the staff.
·      Provide staff incentives to participate in cultural events. 
·      Host diversity and cultural nights.
·      Be open-minded, have open ears, adjust to cultural differences so that personal views and beliefs are not imposed on others.
·      Adopt “inclusive developmental practices” as an organizational policy.
·      Identify cultures within the company.  Create a plan.  Get the “buy in” of management to conduct diversity and inclusion training/workshops.
·      Hire trained and qualified interpreters. Provide translated materials.
·      Provide cross-cultural communication skills training on expressive and receptive methods of communication.
·      Revive cultural diversity committee to help doctors be culturally competent in practice.  Also make sure that:
1.   Representative members are from a diverse background.
2.   The mission statement is reflective of cultural inclusiveness.
3.   Needs assessment are not only conducted by they are followed by action.
4.   Cultural competency is part of educational curriculum such that it is included in the experiences of student, faculty, staff, and administrator at a university level.
·      Listen to your client before making recommendations on their behalf.
·      Be open to customizing your services based on the client’s cultural needs.
         The group was absolutely amazing and the vision of Hamro America LLC “Culturally competent service for all, disparities for none” was successfully transferred to organizations and individuals who participated in the workshop.  I am so very proud of them all.
         Also a very special thanks to Mr. Essen Otu, Diversity Director at Mountain Park Health Center for the lead to DLA.  I am really grateful to Mr. Bob Enderle, Board Member of DLA, for all his candid guidance and feedback throughout my preparation for this workshop. I would also like to thank Ms. Christine French, Board Member of DLA for her openness and encouragement. 
Please remember Hamro America LLC for your next cultural competency exposure.  Invite us to your organization.

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