September 29, 2009

Human Rights Clinic in the Washington Post

Last weekend, the Washington Post published a story about our Human Rights Clinic, a new program that we’ve covered before on this blog. The Human Rights Clinic provides specialized medical examinations for refugees who must document evidence of torture in order to gain asylum in America.

(Dr Katalin Roth, pictured here, sits on Bread for the City's board and is a founding volunteer doctor with the Human Rights Clinic)

The Post article is especially worth reading for a few glimpses into the actual stories of the people who turn to this special program for help. In fact, it catches our Medical Clinic director, Dr Randi Abramson, in a particularly sad moment:

Abramson drops onto a stool, composing her thoughts before entering on a laptop the horrifying story of her most recent patient at the District nonprofit organization's new monthly clinic for political asylum-seekers: a 24-year-old Kenyan woman who recently fled Mexico and is petitioning to stay in the United States. Raised by abusive grandparents who beat her and, at 10, subjected her to genital mutilation. Cast out by her family for choosing school over marriage, she was tricked into a prostitution ring couched as a scholarship opportunity. She ended up in a Mexican brothel, where she was held captive, beaten and knifed by a customer….

"The scars, everything I found in the physical exam completely support the history she related," Abramson said. "It's just very rewarding to know that I will document what I heard and saw this evening and that will have a huge impact on her life."

It’s worth noting that Dr. Randi agreed to open this clinic without any additional funding. It’s a purely volunteer effort that—like so many things—she did simply because she saw there was a great need for it.

One important issue that the article doesn’t touch upon is that refugees are often not legally allowed to have a job while applying for asylum. So these traumatized individuals – who must rebuild a new life from scratch – can essentially become trapped in or near poverty for an extended period of time.

That makes our clinic all the more important for too many of these cases: we’re able to connect these clients into our network of comprehensive services – including food, medical care, legal counsel, social workers, etc – that can sustain them while they work to get back on their feet.

The good news is that we’re currently planning to increase our capacity to provide these services. And you can help! Join our capital campaign in support of our upcoming Northwest Center expansion, which will double the size of our medical clinic. You can donate here.

Meanwhile, if you are (or you know) a physician with interest in volunteering at the clinic, please contact Aviva Bellman at

P.S. A special thank you goes out to Amy Asheroff, who helped coordinate this new program as it got off the ground this year. (“Child care!”) Amy is leaving us soon, and will be missed.

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