Magic COVID-19 team brings vaccination confidence to Oregon and across the world

As a refugee services provider Catholic Charities Oregon has a goal – to be able to create trusting relationships with the families and communities they serve.  

When faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, Catholic Charities knew they needed to ensure that the refugees they serve could have access to vaccine information and education, and limited barriers to vaccination. They also knew that this was not the same work as the case management they did for newly arrived refugee families, so they had to create something new.

Through a partnership with Oregon Health Authority, Catholic Charities was able to hire a team of COVID-19 Community Engagement Specialists in early 2021. This team rapidly took on the work of supporting their communities. The team was made up of Chomba Kaluba, Abidah Jamaluddin, Lung Wah Lazum and Mohamed Ali.

“We are a group of individuals. Highly qualified professionals from different backgrounds and nationalities who work for Catholic Charities with pride,” said Kaluba, who is originally from Zambia and serves the Congolese- and Swahili-speaking communities. “And the power of numbers is what each one of us brings as a strength. And that strength is from all backgrounds; our values, beliefs, and passion.”

The team first considered what it meant to engage with their communities effectively. How could they use their knowledge of their communities?

Describing their process, Kaluba said, “COVID-19 is one thing we are all experiencing so how can we collect narratives of how we change people’s lives? Because we have to define the what. What is on the table is COVID-19. What has it done on people’s lives? And then we come back to how do we work together. The how was the biggest part.”

Kaluba came up with the idea of making language- and culturally-specific videos about the vaccine and ways to amplify vaccination confidence. The team thought videos were a good plan because they could have a snowball effect with people watching them, then sharing them on to others.

And they came up with a strategy to use respected community leaders in the videos. They asked faith leaders, teachers and business people to participate. They also asked a medical practitioner from Multnomah’s Mid-County Health Center. The clinic, along with Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and Salem Clinic, sees many of the refugees served by Catholic Charities when they arrive newly in Oregon.

Choosing that clinic was strategic, according to Kaluba, because even though people have gone on with their lives, it can “remind them of their journey and the idea that they are safe.”

When Clackamas County Public Health learned of the plans, they joined in to support the project. They offered a producer to work with the team and did all the filming and editing of the work.

Jamaluddin works to provide COVID-19 information for Rohingya in the Burmese community through a vaccine education program and referral service. She was excited by the idea of producing a video to bring more community awareness to Rohingya about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“So we shared it in our Facebook and also in the YouTube,” said Jamaluddin. And since then, she has noticed that she has been getting more calls. People from the Rohingya community are asking where the testing sites are, and they want to know more about the vaccine. 

Lazum pointed out that he and Jamaluddin originally came from the same country, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, but they represent different cultures. They decided to make videos in both Burmese and Rohingya to broaden their reach.  

Lung Wah Lazum

“I chose two community members,” said Lazum. “The first one is a Buddhist monk because our people from Myanmar, they live separately based on ethnicity and religions. We have 3 main religions in our country, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim. And we have officially 135 ethnic groups in our country. So firstly, I chose a Buddhist monk to speak for the Burmese people who are mostly Buddhists.  The second one is a teacher who works with Burmese kids. The parents of these children came as refugees from Burma. The teacher also came to the United States as a refugee and she is from the ethnic group called Kachin who originally from northern part of Myanmar. So she can encourage to all the ethnic groups and community members from Myanmar.”

The interview questions for the videos were chosen to build vaccine confidence. Why did you take the vaccine? Why do you want to take the vaccine? Who do you want to encourage? How do you feel physically and mentally after getting vaccinated?

Kaluba pointed out that it was essential to meet people where they are at. Community members come with assumptions about the vaccines, they may not know how vaccines work, and some may not even know what COVID-19 is.

“It is because we are immigrants,” said Kaluba. “We are coming from backgrounds of which might have lacked a health education. Might have lacked access to health care. Might have different political systems or economic systems.”

Chomba Kaluba

While the videos were intended for refugees living in Oregon, they have had a larger reach. The team is hearing that the videos are being viewed across the world in their original countries.

“It is very helpful to our country because in our country it is not a very good situation, but most of the people they will be encouraged when they see them,” said Lazum. “It’s a yes not only for Portland, Oregon, but also for the original country.”

Kaluba adds, “We have been able to reach the world because someone in Burma, they’ll see that video on YouTube and they go wow. I can get vaccinated, right so maybe somehow, we are trying to do what they say is teaching in time saves nine. So maybe we are saving lives somewhere else. I don’t know, but I believe that we are because back home, where I come from people have seen it and they’re happy about it, so if one person gets vaccinated there, we have changed a life somewhere.”

With an awareness that COVID-19 will continue to impact their communities for time to come, the team is looking at other methods of outreach.

“The magic itself is a team that you see right here,” says Kaluba.

You can see the videos at the links below: