Empowering Other Refugees to Enjoy Good Health

By USCRI July 29, 2021

Health care hits close to home for Janet Msinda, a USCRI North Carolina case manager who has been with USCRI since 2016. When Janet was 8 years old and living with her family in Kenya, she almost died from a water borne disease. “The doctor taught my mom how to prevent us from getting sick. My mom would boil water to help kill bacteria.” Janet laughs saying, “My mom was known as ‘the lady who boils water.”

Today, Janet uses her passion for public health to help others. She is a uniquely important source of information and hope to the Raleigh refugee community. Janet loves to give her clients practical tools that empower them to take control of their own health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Janet has been on a mission to ensure the refugee community in Raleigh was armed with information, masks, and vaccines. She has organized and overseen neighbor-to-neighbor mask delivery and public education campaigns, COVID testing sites, and vaccine drives. She was (and still is!) a valuable partner of the Department of Health for critical contact tracing activities. As always, Janet’s warmth and personal transparency lend a credibility to her outreach that can’t be replaced and literally saves lives.

Recently she shared a story about helping a new arrival. “I got a call from one of my clients late in the night in pain from her arthritis. She wanted to go to the doctor. I told her it was too late to go to her doctor. I would help her find relief and I could take her to the doctor in the morning. I told her husband how to massage her feet and wrap them in a moist warm towel. I also told him how to soak her feet and ankles in her medication. Then I told her to put on warm socks and get into bed under the blankets. I followed up two hours later and she was able to stand. She no longer wanted to go to the doctor and waited until her scheduled appointment. I told her, “You can always help yourself.”

Before Janet came to the U.S., she was a high school English teacher in Africa. When she arrived in Raleigh in 1999, she faced several hurdles in getting settled and rebuilding the life of her dreams. Janet explained, “Luckily, I could speak English, but my accent made it difficult to communicate with people. I had to teach people to accept me as I am and to listen. I was speaking English not Swahili. You just have to listen to me carefully.”

It was difficult to transition from being a teacher to taking a job in housekeeping. “There is nothing wrong with housekeeping; it paid the bills. But culturally and mentally, going from a teacher to a housekeeper, it was different.” Janet was good at her housekeeping job. Her cheerful and easy-going personality got her noticed.

One day, her manager asked, “Can you tell me about yourself?” Janet shared about her background as a teacher and her desire to go back to school in America. Her manager encouraged her to follow her dreams.

Janet had set her sights on attending North Carolina State University. “I applied 3 times and got denied. But do you know that I enrolled in some classes and applied again? I got denied again. So, I called to see what the issue was. I spoke with a woman from admissions. She told me it was really competitive and suggested that I look at other schools. I told her I knew of the other schools, but I want to attend this school.”

“Do you know what she did?,” laughs Janet. “She reversed the decision and I got accepted into NCSU. I never gave up.”

Janet knows her personal experiences are a tool to connect and empower her clients. She tells clients who feel they can’t learn English because they are too old that it isn’t true. She was able to do it and they can, too. She encourages her clients to not be scared or dismayed with their current situation. She helps them to see they can do anything; she helps them to see their own potential.  “I tell them they can be the best they can be.”

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