Michelle Lanspa

Michelle Lanspa (Transnational AIDS Prevention among Migrant Prostitutes in Europe Project – TAMPEP): Michelle is from Omaha, Nebraska. She graduated from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown university, where she majored in science and technology in international affairs with a concentration in international health. Michelle participated in many social justice activities and groups at college, including the Georgetown-UNICEF club, Education Without Boundaries (Project Argentina), and Global Justice Now (the Student Campaign for Child Survival). Michelle loves learning language learning. She learned Italian and Arabic, and had a chance to practice her language skills as an intern at the US Embassy in Rome and while studying abroad at the American University of Cairo in Egypt.

My Challenge

06 Feb

I have already been to Italy and I have already studied the situation of immigrants in Italy. In an article that was written about me in my hometown’s newspaper, I was quoted as saying “I hope to learn to work with women victims of violence, which is something you cannot research.” I already knew that this would be a very challenging task, and in the last few days I have seen that yes it is, especially communicating with new people.

Rosanna Paradiso, director of TAMPEP, explained to Leslie (the other AP fellow with me in Turin) and I that they sometimes have problems with their cultural mediators that have not had to prostitute themselves before. Cultural mediators are like an informed translator; they receive training and explain not only medical jargon to immigrants, but cultural differences to patients and doctors. They are often migrants themselves. If the cultural mediators have not had that experience of exploitation, sometimes they might be a little condescending, even if they do not mean to be, to TAMPEP’s clients.

From left to right: Jennifer Hollinger, me and Leslie Ibeanusi. Leslie and I are working with The Advocacy Project’s partner organization TAMPEP in Turin, Italy. Jennifer is working also on trafficking with AP’s partner organization Chaste in the UK and in Albania.

When I wrote my undergraduate thesis last year on the challenges Arab immigrants have in accessing health care services in Italy, it was my goal to understand better the role of the cultural mediator, after a person that I interviewed explained to me what they are.

It’s one thing to learn a new language, but to be able to earn the trust of someone in a difficult situation and to make him or her understand that you would sincerely like to help them is another thing…

This week, I accompanied a Romanian girl, with the Romanian cultural mediator of TAMPEP, to the local health clinic nearby the office, which takes care of many immigrants. At the beginning, it was easy to chat with this young girl that wanted to see a gynecologist to take a pregnancy test. She had not had her period for two months and she wanted to know if she was pregnant or not, so she could resolve the situation. Talking with her, while she watched her daughter play with the other children in the overcrowded waiting room, while the mediator waited in line to present this girl’s documents, I learned that she was really afraid to take this test. Ok, maybe all women can understand what it is to be afraid to be unexpectedly pregnant, but, after our first bit of conversation, there was an awkward pause. I could only tell her that the mediator was a great lady and that TAMPEP would take care of whatever she needed. I couldn’t manage to talk to her about her work, for example, or if she knew which client could be the father, or if she was married or had a boy friend.

The next day, I went with Leslie and the Nigerian cultural mediator to visit a Nigerian girl, a victim of trafficking who goes by Angel in our blogs, who three days prior was moved to a new community. (To read more about Angel, you can read Leslie’s blogs). I was able to talk relatively easily with Angel, but I asked myself, what do these girls think about me? Is my presence annoying or undesired? For now, without being a cultural mediator, how can I be more helpful, more comforting to these girls?

Posted By Michelle Lanspa

Posted Feb 6th, 2009

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