Offering a Helping Hand to those who are in need
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, depression, and stigma are all heavy burdens being carried by many of the patients seen at The Chronic Viral Illness Clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (CVIS Clinic). Over the last 20 years, the CVIS has developed an expertise in working with refugees who are HIV positive, and since last summer alone they’ve received over 120 new asylum seekers; 10 per cent of current patients.
Some of the most vulnerable people who make up this population are women; coming to Canada in search of a new life with very little, and often providing for their children. The reality faced by many of these patients struck a chord for McGill Faculty of Medicine student Minuoja Chandramohan, as she spent her Longitudinal Family Medicine Experience shadowing Dr. Bertrand Lebouché at the CVIS Clinic.
“I saw all these amazing women that were coming in with their children. It would never just be about medications, but also about their emotional well-being. I slowly got to know more about their families, and how hard it has been for them,” she explains.
A personal connection
Minuoja’s work in helping marginalized women in Montreal is rooted in compassion, understanding, and a thirst for change. As a young girl, she, her brother, and mother sought refuge in a local shelter during a rough period in their lives. She vividly remembers the kindness of the volunteers and social workers.
As she began her journey in med school at McGill, she joined the Health and Hygiene for the Homeless Club. That’s where she met fellow medical student Daniel Kaufman, and explained her idea of assembling hygiene kits for the CVIS Clinic patients. Daniel was immediately on board with the idea, and Helping Hands was born.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have much money, but my dad was always somebody who would take a minute on a weekend to stop and help somebody who was homeless, and actually talk to them about their life,” Daniel says. “And that was something that affected me when I was growing up.”
Daniel lost his father at 12-years-old, his mother and sister receiving help from the community at local food banks to make ends meet. As he grew older, he knew that he had to do everything he could to pay it forward, and has always been actively involved in community fundraising.
Collaborating with MUHC staff
Once Daniel and Minuoja started working on the Helping Hands concept, Dr. Lebouché put them in contact with Claire Duchesneau and Pedro Mejia, the CVIS Clinic social workers.
“When Dr. Lebouché asked me to meet them, and they told me their stories, I just choked up. It is amazing that medical students, and future healthcare workers, are coming in with this kind of wisdom and life experience, that will truly help them connect with vulnerable patient populations,” Claire says.
As Dr. Lebouché says, Minuoja and Daniel’s project shows the true possibilities of getting involved as students.
“As students, you are not only here to learn in the context of medical school. At the same time you can let yourself be touched and inspired by the people you meet,” he says.
What’s in the kits?
Minuoja and Daniel have been able to apply for various grants and awards to jump start the project, raising $4,000 thus far, enough to fund 400 hygiene kits. They also created a fundraising page on Chuffed.org. Once it came time to start buying the items for the hygiene kits, Minuoja reached out to local women’s shelters to understand the needs of the population they are targeting. As a start, they have come up with these 10 basic items:
- 10 menstrual pads
- Baby wipes
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Body wash and body lotion
- Panty liners (25 to use over the month)
- And some tampons
So far, the Helping Hands team has assembled 50 kits, 25 for each social worker at the CVIS Clinic. They are working closely with Claire and Pedro to see what items can be added as well as removed. It’s a work in progress, as they collaborate with the CVIS Clinic staff to best serve the patient population.
The team is seeking both monetary and in-kind donations, and will also be partnering up with the McGill University Health Centre foundation in order to raise funds for the project and make it sustainable.
“It is really nice to have a place that wants to listen to us medical students, and to collaborate with the team,” Minuoja says.
“It is also nice to feel like we can make a difference at this early stage in our careers,” Daniel adds.
To learn more about Helping Hands visit their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/helpinghandsmcgill/
And to donate, visit: https://muhcf.akaraisin.com/ui/16273/participant/4340125