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Sokoto House graduates inaugural class of Community Health Workers

Sokoto House 10

Last week, Sokoto House graduated their inaugural class of Community Health Workers, or CHWs.

“If you're willing to share with us your story, if you want to share with us what you really see happening, what you really need, we're going to promise you, we're gonna do everything we can that this information is connected to data that's going to tell the right narrative, right?”

That’s Abdul Hafeedh Bin Abdullah, Co-Founder and Director of Sokoto House here in Wilmington, explaining the mission of the Community Health Workers (CHWs).

CHWs are one prong of a five-part Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative to reduce violence, also known as STRIVE. Abdullah was hired as a CHW in Portland, Oregon back in 2011. Portland was one of five demonstration sites for the initiative from 2011 to 2016.

At the end of the program, Abdullah moved to Wilmington and eventually began using that evidence-based model in his own non-profit: Sokoto House.

Last Wednesday, Sokoto House graduated its inaugural class of ten CHWs, using mostly the same curriculum Abdullah was trained on back in Oregon, with some adaptations to make it fit Wilmington.

“And what I've done is I adapted that particular training, which is now 60 hours, 40 hours in person 20 hours online, and includes knowledge around public health, understanding community assets, which is community-based organizations and community health workers, and other community professionals looking at structural and social determinants," he said.

A CHW is someone in the community who already has ties to people and organizations. That foundation of trust, empathy, and understanding is crucial for the model to work. For example, Abdullah said, CHWs are the boots on the ground that go into homes and get a feel for the situation affecting someone. There, they’ll note issues like a lack of stable employment, lack of food access, or trauma in the home. They then connect the resident to organizations in the community, and conduct regular check-ins to see progress.

At the end of the day, people who have been systematically hurt by existing institutions are less likely to go to those very same institutions for help, even if they desperately need it. This is why Abdullah finds “lived experience” to be an important piece of being a CHW. When you’ve been through the same hardships, it’s easier to have people listen to you and be willing to accept help.

Lately, CHWs at Sokoto House have been dealing with the prevalence of PCP and synthetic marijuana, called “Tucci”.

“But one of the things that's really ravished in our communities here in Wilmington, North Carolina is PCP, right? And this drug called Tucci, right, which is really destroying the brains, like people are literally going crazy, right and not coming back," he said,

So Abdullah and his team put together a public health messaging campaign. They went out into the community to teach young people affected about the long-term effects of using these drugs.

Outsiders sometimes assume Sokoto House and its community health workers are anti-police. But that’s not the case.

“The CHW is not anti-police. Right, we understand is a necessity for the police but we will be very clear on what the police job is what the police job isn't. If something happened to my mom, I'm calling the police. And if somebody is in a situation that is beyond my paygrade to help, and I see that their life is at risk, I'm calling the police. There's no problem," he said.

CHW’s are an integral part in making sure people in underserved communities receive the care they need, Abdullah said.

Vance Williams, CEO of Advanced Youth Outreach and one of the newest CHW graduates, says that creating safe spaces for people to express themselves is necessary to healing the community as a whole.

“When you create the environment for that, then you get the proper narrative, you see the need, you see the want, you also see the gaps in services that they might be receiving from another organization or the lack of participation, and the why," Williams said.

Sokoto House’s inaugural class is already hard at work in the community, and they plan on beginning their next sessions soon.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY where the exuberance of sports season never ended. She graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Chasing stories has been a passion of hers since she was little, channeling itself through her art and writing. Camille’s journey in audio is never ending and she’s served as a podcast producer on multiple shows. When she’s not working she enjoys chatting and gaming with friends, reading, and creating digital art.