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Persian Language Students Assist Afghan Refugees at Asian Health Fair



On Saturday, October 23, a group of students led by Marjan Seirafi-Pour, Persian instructor and Outreach Coordinator with the Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies, volunteered at the 27th annual Asian Health Fair, working as translators for newly arrived refugees from Afghanistan.


The Asian Health Fair is hosted by the OU Health Sciences Center in tandem with the Asian Health Coalition, and this year it was held at Trinity Church in Oklahoma City. The fair offered a variety of health services for community members, including COVID-19 and flu vaccines, vision and hearing screenings, blood pressure checks, physician consultations, mental health consultations, dental care, health insurance consultations and more. This year, the fair's organizers made a special effort to include Afghan refugees, who have been arriving in Oklahoma by the hundreds this fall after fleeing the Taliban. Catholic Charities and other organizations have been working to get families settled in their new homes, and the Asian Health Fair was an excellent opportunity to help them access medical services and navigate the U.S. health system.

Students helping with paperwork at AHS
Students helping with paperwork at the AHF

This new addition left the fair in need of translators, which is where OU Persian students stepped in. Seirafi-Pour was contact by co-secretary of Asian American Professional Student Association Mary Sohn, who asked her to assist with Persian translation. Four Persian students — Elina Heydari, Paria Iranpour, Shahrad Shariari, and Mohamad Ahmadi — volunteered, and they were joined by an additional Persian speaker, OU-HSC second-year medical student Honieh Sowdagar.


From 8-2 p.m., the group assisted where needed. Their primary work consisted of speaking with refugees, helping them fill out paperwork, and translating for them during medical examinations and screenings. The experience was "a pleasure" for Shahrad Shariari, Persian student and biology/pre-dental major. "I was able to use Persian language to communicate with [the Afghan refugees] and help them out with their medical questionnaires," he explained. "It was very important to me to learn their culture and understand their current situation. I know they have overcome a lot of difficulties, but I saw how mentally strong they are and all are grateful to be here.”

Speaking with a family at AHF
Speaking with a family at the AHF

Likewise Elina Heydari, a biology major and Iranian studies minor who also tutors Persian language in the College of International Studies, felt she gained as much from the experience as she gave. “Being given the opportunity to volunteer at the Asian Health Fair, I was able to use my native language, Farsi, as a translation tool to help the Afghan people who have recently arrived in the United States," she said. "Communicating with the Afghan families while helping them with their medical tasks during the fair was a great opportunity to learn about their culture and their current situation. I enjoyed helping the families and I will try to stay in touch with them.”


We're proud of this group for stepping up to give back to the community and support our newly arrived neighbors. If you would like to volunteer to help refugees (no Persian skills necessary) or make a donation to the Afghan resettlement effort, please visit our webpage at https://www.ou.edu/cis/afghan-project. To learn more about studying Persian language at the University of Oklahoma, contact Marjan Seirafi-Pour at marjan@ou.edu or Alexander Jabbari at jabbari@ou.edu.


A selfie of the group
A selfie of the group