Spreading Our Wings
Project seeks input of Afghan women refugees on their health-care needs
U of A researcher hopes to help Edmonton refugee centre serve its clients better
More than 5,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Alberta since the Taliban took power in their country in 2021. Adjusting to their new lives in Canada — new language and culture, new education and health-care systems — is a daily challenge for virtually all of these newcomers.
University of Alberta researcher Cristian Neves is completing a project he hopes will help one part of that group — Afghan women — obtain the kind of health-care services they need. His study is being done at the New Canadians Health Centre (NCHC) in Edmonton. More than 1,100 refugees, about half of them women, from all parts of the world have used the centre’s services since it opened in August 2021.
“I always wanted to make a contribution to the Afghan community, especially Afghan women, because they have been really neglected, and they lost all their rights due to the regime in their country,” says Neves, a second-year graduate student studying community engagement in the School of Public Health. Although his research focuses on services offered at NCHC, he says the results could be helpful for other refugee organizations.
Neves is a newcomer himself, having arrived in 2021 from Chile, where he trained as a clinical psychologist and family therapist.
Health care plays a critical role in the well-being of refugees. For Afghan women who have come from a country where they were not allowed to visit a doctor without a male chaperone, navigating the Canadian system will take time, says Neves. Many arrive with unresolved mental and physical health problems.
Neves’s project involves one-on-one interviews with Afghan women who use NCHC’s services, followed by focus groups with the centre’s clinical staff. The aim is to talk to the women about their health-care needs, expectations, recommendations and any feedback they have about their experiences at NCHC.
“It’s not that I’m giving them a voice — they already have a voice,” Neves stresses. “I’m helping channel those voices to create change.”
Astrid Velasquez, NCHC’s executive director, welcomes the study. “The more we know about our clients, the more we know about their expectations and the way they take on these new experiences in Edmonton or in Canada, the better we can serve them,” says Velasquez.
She was particularly grateful that Neves chose to work with the newly-arrived Afghan women, who she says are already creating a tight-knit community. “I was very excited that Cristian wanted to concentrate on this because, as you know, women are often forgotten, especially when they come from a very strong male society.”
Neves’s research project is supported by the Evaluation Capacity Network and the U of A’s Community-University Partnership, a collaboration between researchers, community organizations and practitioners aimed at improving the well-being of children and families in Edmonton. He is also enrolled in Patient and Community Engagement Training (PaCET), a WCHRI-funded program that teaches graduate students how to conduct engaged research in women and children’s health.
For Neves, the opportunity to do this focused community research has been rewarding. “Back in Chile, I didn’t have many opportunities to conduct research that could create some change. To be able to do it here is amazing.”
Cristian Neves is supervised by Rebecca Gokiert in the School of Public Health and his PaCET supervisor is Tehseen Ladha in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. Gokiert and Ladha are co-directors of research and evaluation at the New Canadians Health Centre. Neves’ research is supported by the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.