UB - Community Connections to Improve Refugee Health and Wellbeing

Co-sponsored by the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, Office of Global Health Initiatives and the Community for Global Health Equity

2017 Refugee Health Summit.

The Annual Western New York (WNY) Refugee Health Summit unites clinicians, resettlement representatives, community health workers, researchers, students, municipal leaders, and refugees to highlight innovative university-community partnerships that have resulted in research, programming, and solutions to improve health and wellbeing for refugees living in Buffalo and Western New York.

7th Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit: Social Connectedness in Time of COVID-19 for Refugee Health and Wellbeing

The 7th Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit aims to highlight responses to pandemic-induced social isolation, focusing on partnerships that seek to improve educational environments, support mental health care, and build culturally holistic care models.

Having fled war, persecution, and torture, Buffalo’s population of people that arrived as refugees are revitalizing and diversifying Buffalo, yet challenges remain for both Buffalo and its newest residents. As the United States has one of the most individualistic cultures in the world, people who arrived in the country as refugees may find the separation necessitated by the pandemic even more jarring than those born in the US.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has left many disconnected, individuals and organizations—both formal and informal—in Buffalo have engaged the refugee community in various ways. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, innovative community partnerships, policies and programs have been implemented to support resettled people. 


The annual WNY Refugee Health Summit is co-sponsored by the University at Buffalo’s Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity and School of Public Health and Health Professions’ Office of Global Health Initiatives.

Refugee Health Summit Speakers

Speakers at the 7th Annual Refugee Health Summit bring a variety of experiences and interdisciplinary expertise. Panelists include community leaders, service providers, educators, and researchers and scholars.

Nancy Abdelhaq 

Nancy Abdelhaq (she/her) is the Executive Director of RAHAMA: Resources And Help Against Marital Abuse, a not-for-profit organization that provides culturally appropriate emotional, spiritual, material, and advocacy support to survivors of domestic violence in Buffalo and Western New York. Nancy has worked with RAHAMA since 2017 in varied roles including as an advocate, a case manager, and an interpreter – roles which have shaped her grounded approach to leadership. A specialist in special education, Nancy brings significant expertise in social work, multilingual skills (in Arabic), and deep knowledge of WNY faith and immigrant communities to her work at RAHAMA. Nancy is an asset to the immigrant and faith communities in Buffalo and Western New York: she bridges language gaps for Arabic speakers seeking healthcare in her role as a medical interpreter, and has served as a Quran Arabic teacher at the Alnoor Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier (ISNF) for 15 years. Her commitment, passion, and outreach has helped expand the visibility and reach of RAHAMA in the last four years. Read more about Rahama here: https://www.rahama.org/

Ali Kadhum

Ali Kadhum was born in Karbala, Iraq. He was a middle school teacher until conflict (beginning in 2003) forced him to leave in 2006. Ali arrived in the United States in May 2008 as a refugee, after which he completed his master’s degree at UB’s School of Social Work in 2014. He now works at BestSelf Behavioral Health as a Mental Health Counselor and a Care Manager Supervisor. He is also Chair of the Iraqi American Society and one of the founders of World Refugee Day in Western New York. Since 2009, this event has encouraged Buffalo’s New Americans to persevere through their struggles by coming together to celebrate their backgrounds and diverse cultures through food, songs, and sports – specifically soccer.

Jill Koyama, PhD 

Jill Koyama, a cultural anthropologist, is moving into the role of Vice Dean at Arizona State University’s Teachers College, but most recently has held the positions of Professor and Director in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Arizona’s College of Education. She began her faculty career at SUNY at Buffalo in 2009. Jill’s research is informed by her commitment to equity, inclusion, anti-racism, and social justice. Her scholarship sits across several strands of inquiry: the productive social assemblage of policy; the controversies of globalizing educational policy; and the politics of migrant education. In this research, she challenges notions of global citizenship and interrogates normative enactments of civic engagement, leadership, and education. For the past twelve years, Jill has focused her research and community engagement on the ways in which refugee youth and their families access, develop, and participate in networks as they navigate their lives in the US.

Melinda Lemke, PhD

Melinda Lemke is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University at Buffalo, SUNY; a University Honors College Fellow, she also co-leads the Refugee Health and Well-being Big Ideas Team at the Community for Global Health Equity. An interdisciplinary, educational policy researcher, she uses qualitative methodology and critical and feminist frames to examine the politics of education, normative culture, and how policy and respective actors address youth marginality, gender-based violence, and forced displacement. Lemke is the Associate Editor of Leadership and Policy in Schools and her work is found in outlets such as Children's Geographies, Educational Policy, and The Urban Review. Her research is shaped by a previous career in U.S. urban public education, work in sexual assault prevention, and worldview that aims to center the co-construction of public knowledge through equity-focused transdisciplinary and multisector community partnerships. Read more about Melinda here.

Hana Mirach

Hana Mirach is a community leader and a changemaker. Hana uses her energy, talent, and experience to make Buffalo a better place for people who are resettled as refugees. With family roots in Eritrea, Hana is herself a refugee who understands firsthand the importance of social connectedness. She is the Director of Resettlement and Refugee School Impact Program at Journey’s End Refugee Services in Buffalo, NY, a not-for-profit agency that resettles refugees in Buffalo. She has devoted more than a decade to her refugee clients at Journey’s End, motivating and encouraging them to be independent and self-sufficient members of their new community. Prior to resettling in the US, Hana worked with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (in Egypt). Like many refugees, Hana has talents that are rarely known in the new home country. Hana is a trained and experienced accountant – with seven years of accounting experience in Eritrea – who adapts her skills to implement programs that genuinely make Buffalo a city of good neighbors for new Americans.

Saw Meh

Saw Meh was born in Kayah State and raised in a Thailand refugee camp. In 2011, she migrated to the United States. Saw attended Lafayette High School and furthered her higher education at Buffalo State College. During her time in college, she had the opportunity to serve her fellow Upward Bound students as a mentor for the summer program. Given her refugee background, she knew how tough it was to adjust and integrate into a new environment. With the intention to help ease the process of adapting to a new country for new arrivals, Saw decided to further her education and earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. Saw is currently working with Language Lines to support the needs of her fellow refugees. In addition, she is working as a Focused Learning for Youth (FLY) Program Assistant with the Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI), and as a multilingual Teaching Assistant at Lafayette International Community School. Finally, she is currently enrolled at the University of Buffalo to pursue her master’s degree in Education.

Faustina Palmatier

With family roots in Myaungmya-Ayeyawaddy Delta, Burma, Faustina Palmatier is passionate about addressing mental health issues and promoting mental wellbeing. Since arriving in the United States, she has worked as a Teacher’s Aide (Buffalo Public Schools), a Community Educator (International Institute of Buffalo), an Interpreter, and as part of Jericho Road Community Health Center’s Behavioral Health team, as well as in many internship and volunteer roles. Faustina currently serves as a part-time interpreter and as the Program Coordinator for the Karen Society of Buffalo (KSB), where she works to build needed administrative capacity and programming, as well as to oversee program participant recruitment, conduct home visits with families, coordinate transportation, and strategize with the Board, among other tasks. Faustina has a Diploma in Liberal Arts and Science-Humanities from Erie Community College, a Master’s in Education from the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines, a Bachelor’s in Education from the Myanmar Union Adventist Seminary in Burma, and a Master’s of Social Work from the University at Buffalo. Faustina’s time working for and amongst her community for the past 13 years has allowed her to become a leader and gain significant experience addressing mental health issues.

Karen Waugaman

Karen Waugaman has been a Spanish Teacher in the Niagara Falls City School District since 1990. She is currently the Director of the Niagara Falls Teacher Resource Center in the City School District. Karen’s current duties include developing, facilitating, and procuring Professional Development for our teachers. The Niagara Falls City School District is focusing on Trauma Informed Classrooms, Social Emotional Skills for Teachers and Students, English for New Language Learners, and the possibility of welcoming refugee students and families into the school district and community. 

Win Min Thant

Win Min Thant grew up in Burma and came to the U.S. in 2007. She found new roots in Buffalo through her grassroots work with various local organizations and inner city schools.  A true believer of equity and democracy, Thant strives to empower the marginalized and disadvantaged youth through education. Thant is an impact manager with the City Year Buffalo.  She holds a BA in Environmental Studies from University at Buffalo, and MS in Multicultural Education from Buffalo State College. She is currently pursuing an MBA at Boston University.  She serves on the Community Advisory Panel of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Advisory Board of the Anne Frank Project, the Board of Directors of Journey’s End Refugee Services, Inc., and the Board of Trustees of Explore and More Children’s Museum.She has also served as a community advisor for research project on food equity supported by the Community for Global Health Equity.  In her free time, Thant seeks spirituality through walking, gardening, and meditation.

Refugee Health Summit Leadership, Facilitators and Organizers

Kafuli Agbemenu, PhD, MPH, MSN, RN, CTN-A

Kafuli Agbemenu, an Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University at Buffalo, is a global health expert who focuses on reproductive health of immigrants and refugees. She earned a MPH with a focus on behavioral and community health science and global health, as well as her MS and PhD in Nursing from the University of Pittsburgh. Within the Community for Global Health Equity, Kafuli co-leads the Refugee Health and Wellbeing Big Ideas team (with Melinda Lemke). Her research areas of interest include adolescent reproductive health and women's health in the African immigrant population. Read more about her work and perspective at: http://www.buffalo.edu/globalhealthequity/Resources/articles-and-reflections.host.html/content/shared/www/globalhealthequity/articles-and-reflections/knowledge-is-power--dr--kafuli-agbemenu-s-quest-to-improve-reproductive-health-education-in-african-refugee-women.detail.html

Shelby Bauer

Shelby Bauer serves on the organizing committee of the 7th Annual Refugee Health Summit. She works with Journey’s End Refugee Services as the Preferred Communities Program Manager where she supports vulnerable families resettling in Buffalo and Western New York.

Jennifer Foster, PhD

Jennifer Foster, PhD, is the Coordinator of the Office of Global Health Initiatives in the School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP). Jen coordinates program activities engaging faculty, staff, students and community partners in advancing sustainable solutions to global health problems. Jennifer serves on the organizing committee of the 7th Annual Refugee Health Summit. 

Melinda Lemke, PhD

Bio above.

Alyssa Reese

Alyssa Reese is a rising second year medical student at the Jacobs School of Medicine. She is a member of the UB Human Rights Initiative and UB Refugee Health and Wellbeing Team. Alyssa holds a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences Interdisciplinary with a concentration in Legal Studies from the University at Buffalo. She is fascinated by the connections between law, public health, and health policy, and intertwines her interests through research and advocacy work.

Liya Chandy

Liya Chandy is a graduate student in the Department of Architecture at the University at Buffalo. An affiliate of the Community for Global Health Equity, Liya has provided design support to the 7th Annual Refugee Health Summit. Her interests include inclusive design and architectural history with a focus on unpacking the role of colonialism on faith-based architecture.

Alexandra Judelsohn

Alex Judelsohn is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan and the Programs Manager for the Community for Global Health Equity. Her dissertation examines how resettlement cities impact resettlement outcomes for those that arrive with refugee status. Broadly, her interests include how the built environment impacts health, particularly for immigrant and refugee populations. Alex holds a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University at Buffalo.

Mary Glenn

As Assistant Dean of Community Engagement, Mary Glenn directs engagement and outreach activities focused on advancing the School of Public Health and Health Profession’s (SPHHP) reputation, facilitating accreditation, and building and fostering mutually beneficial partnerships with organizations in the community. She works to ensure that the school builds purposeful relationships within the community, including with the non-profit, grassroots, public and corporate sectors. Mary started this newly created position in March of 2020, and for almost seven years prior she served as Senior Director for the Advancement of Health Sciences at UB, building a successful advancement program for SPHHP and the schools of Nursing and Social Work.

Kasia Kordas, PhD

Kasia Kordas is the co-director of the Community for Global Health Equity (with Dr. Samina Raja). A faculty member in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, Dr. Kordas’s work focuses on environmental epidemiology. Dr. Kordas studies the intersection of food, nutrition and metal exposures in children, and you can read more about her work here

Samina Raja, PhD

Samina Raja is the Co-Director of Community for Global Health Equity (with Dr. Kasia Kordas). She is the Founder and Principal Investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, which focuses on research and action to promote food equity through local planning and policy. With a team of scholars and community partners, Dr. Raja recently authored a report on ways in which local governments in the Global South can create more equitable and sustainable community food systems through planning and policy. The report is published by the FAO, and can be downloaded hereDownload pdf.

Lanika Sanders

Lanika Sanders is a Research Associate with the Community for Global Health Equity and the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab. Lanika is a graduate of the Masters in Urban Planning program at the University at Buffalo where she specialized in food systems planning.


8:00 | Welcome

Dr. Samina Raja, Community for Global Health Equity

8:30 | Opening Remarks

Hana Mirach, Journey’s End Refugee Services, Inc.

9:00 | Panel: School Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dr. Jill Koyama, University of Arizona

Dr. Melinda Lemke, University at Buffalo

Saw Meh, Westside Economic Development Initiative and University at Buffalo

Karen Waugaman, Niagara Falls School District 

10:30 | Panel: Mental Health and Social Connectedness During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Nancy Abdelhaq, Rahama

Ali Kadhum, Best Self Behavioral Health

Faustina Palmatier, Karen Society of Buffalo

Win Min Thant, City Year Buffalo

12:00 | Interactive Workshop: Future of holistic care and wellbeing for refugee communities during a pandemic

Jennifer Foster, Office of Global Health Initiatives

Shelby Bauer, Journey's End Refugee Services

Liya Chandy, School of Architecture and Planning

Mary Whalen Glenn, School of Public Health

1:15 | Closing

WNY Refugee Health Summit in the News