South Philadelphians received free health screenings while absorbing sights and sounds from across the globe at Mifflin Square Park on Saturday afternoon.
Commemorating the United Nations-sanctioned International Day of Peace, several regional organizations, ranging from Jefferson Health to SEAMAAC, collaborated this past weekend to localize the worldwide event in South Philly.
For the first time since its inception, Peace Day Philly, a United Nations-affiliated nonprofit, hosted one of its annual Peace Day events at Mifflin Square Park, located between 5th and 6th streets and Wolf and Ritner streets.
“Mifflin Square is in a central location to a lot of different refugee groups and a lot of different inner-city groups,” said Lisa Parker, founder of Peace Day Philly. “So, it’s kind of a gathering point.”
The organization, which works to empower “all people to collaboratively build a more peaceful and just world,” partnered with the city Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services to create an event existing at the cross-section of peace and wellness.
Though the event aimed to foster peace in regard to non-violence, it simultaneously strived to cultivate a sense of inner serenity for individuals, particularly immigrants and refugees.
“We believe in global peace, and this area is very diverse,” said Sarorng Sorn, DBHIDS’ director of immigrant affairs and language access. “People from all over, especially those who are escaping war and genocide and conflict from various countries – find South Philly home. We want to bring this event to South Philly to really promote unity, to promote harmony, a sense of belonging – that we’re all raising each other and supporting each other as a way to promote peace.”
Through her work with DBHIDS, Sorn and other local community leaders notice the wellness challenges faced by recently arrived populations, including individuals of Asian, Hispanic and African descent.
Sarun Chan, executive director at the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, echoes these thoughts, noting the cultural and linguistic barriers obstructing immigrants and refugees from fundamental health resources.
“Some of the needs they have are so basic that it’s mind-blowing that they couldn’t get the answers at the actual institution,” he said. “Of course, an event like this, it’s great to highlight and showcase but our day-to-day is the struggle to access – all of the things we want to promote in our city.”
The event’s objective was to convene as many health resources as possible, as various vendors gathered at the park, including the Jefferson Health System and the Hepatitis B Foundation, to offer several free screenings, including vision and HIV tests.
Though individuals of all ages spent the afternoon taking advantage of these resources, local health organizations work to offer these programs all year long in South Philadelphia.
Along with its long-established refugee programs, Jefferson Health received more than $3 million from the Wyss Foundation earlier this year for a new wellness clinic in the Bok Building, which will serve specifically immigrants and refugees.
“We try to do as much of our program as we can in the community versus always asking people to come to Jefferson for it,” said Rickie Brawer, co-director for the Center for Urban Health for Jefferson. “But, it’s about meeting community need, which is broad and includes many different aspects, and we really want to work in collaboration with other organizations…We really need health care that’s culturally and linguistically relevant to our community, and it’s happening.”
Though bridging these gaps includes physical medicine, the event organizers and participants stress that mental health is a particularly crucial concern among immigrants and refugees as they leave conditions from their native countries and start new lives in Philadelphia.
“There’s a lot of factors that influence health that go beyond giving people pills,” said Diane Pirollo, executive director of the Methodist Hospital Foundation. “It’s their social-economic status.”
Addressing such social determinants of mental health speak to Peace Day Philly’s greater mission to establish peace within ourselves.
Ideally, this inner tranquility will translate on a larger scale.
“Peace is local, ultimately,” Parker said. “And, even though it’s a global day, we say it’s a global day of local opportunity because if you don’t build peace between ourselves and with each other, we’re never going to find that more global peace. We have to start within and between each other.”