AARP Eye Center
My Atlanta suburb of Clarkston, Georgia, has been called the Ellis Island of the South, thanks to its burgeoning population of immigrants and refugees. Many are low-income and uninsured and thus have few resources to prevent illness or get quality treatment when they are sick. I started this volunteer-based health center because I was a refugee, too, so I know how hard it can be to navigate America’s complex medical system when you come from a different culture and don’t speak the language. Our free clinic has helped more than 7,000 patients and saved quite a few lives. Plus, the community’s younger health care professionals can get global health training without leaving town.
The problem I’m trying to solve
More than half of Clarkston’s residents are foreign-born — hailing from 50 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world. With so many new arrivals, the poverty rate is over 30 percent, and residents speak some 30 different languages. It’s easy for people to fall through the cracks of the medical system. Our clinic provides no-cost language- and culturally appropriate care to any resident whose income is 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. I started the center in 2013, offering care on Sunday mornings, but now we see patients full-time. And we’re about to break ground on a huge state-of-the art facility so we can care for even more.
The moment that sparked my passion
I was born in Tanzania to a minority Muslim family, so I know what it’s like to flee persecution and to feel unmoored in a new land. I also lived in Pakistan and Iran before I had the privilege of coming to the U.S. as an asylum seeker and completing my medical studies. For years I had a thriving private practice, but I always knew I wanted to give back and say “Thank you” to American society for the gifts I was given. At first, I kept my practice open and did this part-time, but the results of the 2016 elections made me realize no expansions of health insurance or Medicaid would be forthcoming in my state. Soon after, I left my practice to dedicate myself fully to the clinic.