We’re excited to announce the winner of our February, 2023 Matt Kurtz Kindness Grant for his wonderful kindness project. The grant was given by Matt’s Kindness Ripples On (MKRO), an organization that encourages acts of kindness by helping people who have ideas for kindness projects but lack the funding to follow through on those ideas.
Congratulations to Taha Umar! He will receive $500 to help fund his acts of kindness project!
Taha Umar (Holmdel, NJ) is founder of the non-profit Refugee Health Connection (RHC). Taha said, “As the son of two immigrant parents and an immigrant myself, I realize the difficulty of adjusting to life in another country. Language barriers, cultural barriers and health barriers all exist for newly arrived families to a different country. That is what inspired me to start working with refugees and immigrants.”
Taha began volunteering at a local refugee resettlement agency, helping refugees successfully integrate into U.S. society. He helped sort and pack donations for setting up apartments for refugee families. He also led the English Language Learning Lab, helping refugees learn both essential English and Digital Literacy Skills.
Taha said, “I saw the refugees really gain familiarity with the topics I was teaching them, and it was heart-warming to know that my work was actually making a difference! It felt amazing to know that I was contributing to the lives of the refugees by empowering them to become self-sufficient. The refugees were already familiar with many topics I was teaching them, as they were educated in their home country. Rather, they just had difficult with the tasks in English and in American society.”
After Taha took on an internship working with refugees, he began hearing about health problems the refugees faced. He noted that it was difficult for them to navigate the healthcare system because of linguistic and cultural barriers, which was causing the refugees to have exacerbated health issues.
For example, a Turkish refugee had a tooth infection and was unable to access care from a dentist. This turned into a full-body infection after the tooth infection spread, causing her to be hospitalized. Stories like this and countless others regarding refugees’ health inspired Taha to start the Refugee Health Connection in August of 2022.
Through RHC, he created health education classes to increase health literacy, ease navigation of the healthcare system, promote healthy behaviors and give refugees the skills to advocate for themselves.
Many refugees were missing fundamental health products that are necessities in every home including hygienic products such as toothbrushes, floss, toothpaste and mouthwash along with medical products such as gauze, dressings, bandages, band-aids, cleansing wipes, etc. RHC is putting together Care Kits that include many of these items to give to refugees.
Refugee Heath Connection is a student-led organization that now has 30 members/volunteers, plus two advisory board members including a physician to make sure their health education classes are at the appropriate literacy level for refugees and are medically accurate.
Taha talked about his parent’s struggle integrating into the US and said, “Thankfully, they were able to overcome these difficulties by creating bonds with previously arrived immigrants that ultimately helped them integrate into society.”
“With the recent influx of refugees to the U.S., especially Afghan and Ukrainian, it is imperative that we help them out. I’m a firm believer in health equity; everyone deserves an equal opportunity to be as healthy as they can be. By founding Refugee Health Connection, and starting the Care Kit Assembly Initiative, I envision a world where there is health equity for all.”
Taha brings hope and compassion to people who are struggling to adjust to the strangeness of their new country. We’re thrilled to have Taha as part of our MKRO family and proud to award him our Kindness Grant.
This grant is given in honor of Matt Kurtz, (1985-2017), a young man whose personal philosophy was to live an honorable, compassionate and non-judgmental life. To give for the sake of giving, to expect nothing in return, to be aware of the world around him and to step in to help others without being asked whenever he saw the need. Matt believed in the ripple effect of a simple act of kindness – like a pebble dropped in water, it goes on and on. You can find out more about how Matt lived his life, examples of his many acts of kindness, big and small, and why this grant was created on MattsKindnessRipplesOn.com.