2014 Imagine Award honoree Jessica S.
Life on the run – not exactly how you imagine raising your family, but when violence shattered her world, it didn’t end with the loss of her husband. Threats of further violence continued to put her family at risk, so Jessica had no choice but to take her then 4 year old daughter, Jenk, and flee her home, eventually leaving her native country of Columbia altogether. Accompanied by her mother, brothers, and grandparents, she made it to a refugee camp in Ecuador with little more than the clothes on her back and the realization that she was expecting her second child. Life in the refugee camp was only marginally better than the situation Jessica and her family escaped, but fortunately for Jessica, her family was assisted by the IRC and moved to the U.S.
Life in the U.S. was more challenging than the family expected. It was difficult to adjust to a new country, a new culture, and a new language as a single mother. CHiP connected with Jessica within a few weeks of her move to Charlottesville. Erica and Susan, two of CHiP’s bilingual staff dedicated to Spanish speaking families, were a lifeline to Jessica as she learned to navigate the unfamiliar waters of American life and healthcare.
When she began having behavior issues with her son Juan Philipe, she turned to CHiP for guidance. CHiP staff worked with Family Medicine and IRC to address several somewhat serious medical issues Juan faced, no doubt complicated by spending most of the first year of his life in a refugee camp. Susan and Erica worked with Jessica to establish routines and make dietary changes that made a huge difference in Juan’s health and behavior. Because of the stressful transition to life in the U.S., many of Jessica’s other family members returned to Ecuador, leaving her alone to care for her two young children. Jessica quickly sought help with childcare so she could take English classes and found work as a housekeeper in UVA’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Through it all, however, Jessica remained determined to keep moving forward and provide the best care and opportunities possible for her children.