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Building community-based systems for refugees here and abroad

im-hyojin-140401_428_aj_srHyojin Im, Ph.D. is an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work. Prior to joining VCU, Im completed her doctoral work at the University of Minnesota in Twin Cities, Minnesota, and two years of post-doctoral work at Mack Center on Mental Health and Social Conflict at UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare. While in Minnesota, Im was afforded the opportunity to observe and study how culture shapes psychosocial response to trauma and how cultural theories can be translated into mental health policy and services with refugee communities. With the highest proportion of refugees among foreign born individuals in the United States, Minnesota provided Im the fuel to develop various community – based participatory research projects to empower immigrants and refugee communities in various settings.

“Community engagement has been a natural area of focus for my work as my research is deeply based in the community. I have worked hard to build a bridge among disciplines and stakeholders from academia, refugee communities, social services providers and governments.”

While continuing her research agenda for urban refugee mental health in international settings, such as, Kenya and Malaysia, Im has begun building research partnerships and projects in Richmond, Virginia. Currently Im is working on two research projects with local refugee communities. Funded by the VCU Division of Community Engagement and partnering with Reestablish Richmond as well as the VCU Wellness Center, Im and her team has initiated a gardening project to provide refugee communities with adjustment activities to help promote emotional and physical well-being through gardening and experiential nutrition workshops. The anticipated outcome is that this project will help refugee families build and regain a sense of community and feel connected and adjusted to the host community. Additionally, Im is helping the Virginia Refugee Mental Health Initiative by designing a multi-tiered refugee mental health service model and providing cross-cultural training and intervention curricula that are culturally adapted to refugee communities.

Emotional distress built upon the trauma that causes refugee situations and forced migration, such as war and violent social conflicts, burdens not only the refugees but also the host community.

Im’s projects are all deeply grounded to the refugee community and their cultural needs, aiming to towards building capacity for sustainable systems to address mental health needs of refugees before, during and after migration.