Remote Volunteering During COVID-19: Students Volunteer to Assist Refugees

student with alphabet chart

Over the past few months, Ankita Mishra (MS-II) coordinated an opportunity for medical students to volunteer remotely with Church World Service ( to aid the local refugee community.  She and classmate Grace Bauer share their experience as volunteers and about the refugees they serve.

What is Church World Service and how did you get involved with this organization?

Ankita:  CWS is a local resettlement agency in Durham, NC.  I worked with them prior to attending medical school, so I knew they had partnerships with Duke University School of Medicine, UNC School of Medicine, and the Duke Nursing Program. I wanted to build a similar partnership between the organization and CUSOM to allow for medical students to have meaningful experiences that would help to shape them into culturally competent physicians.

I studied abroad in the Netherlands in the Spring of 2016 when the refugee crisis hit its peak.  I volunteered at refugee camps there, and I wanted to continue helping that population when I came back to the U.S.  I contacted Church World Service and worked with them through my college years.  It was such a valuable experience for me, and I wanted to continue through medical school and give other people the same opportunity.

Where are the refugees from and how do volunteers help them?

Ankita:  In 2016, I started working with a Syrian family of six, and I worked with them through college and still keep in touch with them.  Its been really sweet watching their kids grow up.  The refugees CUSOM students will be working with are from all over.  Seven CUSOM students began remote volunteering in July and will continue to volunteer remotely throughout the year. Depending on who we are partnered with and their age, we will be doing different activities.  Some of us are paired with refugees who need more medical care; we do not provide it, but we do help them understand the health care system and their disease. I am working with a 6 year old boy who has asthma, so I work with his mom on nutrition and dealing with his asthma.

MS-II Ankita Mishra works with refugee children on their English

Grace: Our role can be to help local refugee families navigate the health system as well as to serve as ESL conversation partners. CWS helps refugees with housing, jobs, schooling – they help until the refugee is self-sufficient and each refugee has a case worker in addition to the volunteers. I am working with someone from Africa.  He is a college student at Durham Tech.  We work on his English, and he wants to pursue a nursing program, so we are doing research and talking through which pathway might be good for him.  Church World Service volunteering is open to anyone over 18.  Due to COVID, everything is remote.

Why did you get involved & what are you gaining from it?

Grace:  It sounded like a good opportunity – I love to travel and experience other cultures, so its a way to experience culture and bring it into my life now by having conversations and getting to know my client.  Also, it is a good reminder on how to have different conversations – working on communication skills – how to talk about something so simple but finding the right words to make sure they understand.

Ankita:  Volunteering grounds you and reminds you of why you chose the path of medicine.  And, it is really nice to have the opportunity to focus on something unrelated to school.

In addition to serving as the Student Government Association Global Health Chair, Ankita is the Grants Director for the Campbell University Community Care Clinic and Vice President of ACOOG CUSOM Chapter.  Grace Bauer is Quality Assurance Specialist with the Campbell University Community Care Clinic (CUCCC) and Secretary of the Women in Medicine Club.