A film, and a learning experience

CSB Jackson Fellows produce documentary on health care issues facing Somali community in St. Cloud

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June 8, 2012

By Mike Killeen

Adia Zeman, Steve Dahlke and other members of the College of Saint Benedict Marie and Robert Jackson Fellows Program set out to make a documentary on health care accessibility issues facing the Somali community in the St. Cloud area.

They did just that, creating "Into the Cloud: Access to Health Care in the St. Cloud Somali Refugee Community," which made its debut April 25 at the Gorecki Dining and Conference Center, CSB.

But they also got a little more than they bargained for in the process.

"Creating this documentary was much more of a learning experience than I ever expected," said Zeman, a native of Anoka, Minn., who recently graduated from CSB with a degree in communication. "Not only did we learn more about the issue of health care and the refugee population, but we learned a ton about creating a film, creativity, leadership, hiring candidates, working with the community, working with a group and much, much more.

"I am so proud of the final project, and I hope that it can become a tool for the community for years to come," Zeman added.

The Jackson Fellows Program was established in 2008 through an anonymous gift. Jackson Fellows - both College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University students - serve at community sites throughout the summer and devote their work to improving life through political or non-political service activities.

Two years ago, program co-directors Matt Lindstrom and Marah Jacobson-Schulte added a year-long, follow-up project to their summer fellowships.

"After they complete their (summer) fellowships, we hope they are inspired. We asked them to come up with a project that will have an impact on an internal or external community," said Jacobson-Schulte, who is the director of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement at CSB and SJU. "This group was passionate about doing something for the St. Cloud-St. Joseph area.  They have lived here for three or four years, and they wanted to do something that would have a direct impact to their adaptive home."

Zeman said the group wanted to connect with the area community.

"The Somali population is one aspect of this community that is particularly unique, and our research showed that health care was one area that was especially challenging to these people," Zeman said.

Two problems soon arose.

"While not exactly a surprise to us, the culture and language barrier was difficult for us to overcome, being we had no Somalis in our group," said Dahlke, a native of St. Louis Park, Minn., who recently graduated from SJU with a degree in environmental studies. "Stearns County health professionals were very helpful in getting us connected." 

Since the Jackson Fellows did not have any experience creating any sort of film, Saint John's senior Tommy O'Laughlin, an art major from Hopkins, Minn., was hired in December 2011 to become "our cinematographer, lighting designer, sound technician, editor and every technical role rolled into one," Zeman said.

"Tommy, who was not a Jackson Fellow, was instrumental in the success of the project," Dahlke added. "He deserves a shout-out."

Filming began in January, with editing starting in early April. The result was a 33-minute documentary which features comments from both Somali residents and area health practitioners. The documentary does not advocate any positions on the issues.

"There is room for improvement for everyone when it comes to refugee health care: doctors, nurses, social service workers, community members and the refugees themselves," Zeman said. "The last thing we wanted to do was to point a finger at any one person or group. The issue is complex and so are the solutions, so it was important to us that the documentary reflected that."

That doesn't mean that the producers want you to walk away empty-handed.

"We presented both Somalian perspectives and those of health care professionals, so one of our hopes is that the documentary would instill a greater sense of mutual understanding, motivating them to develop greater cultural literacy, communication and mutual trust," Dahlke said. "For those who aren't involved in the health care industry, our hope is that they develop a greater understanding of the challenges faced by new immigrants and refugees, not only related to health care but to daily life in general."

Copies of the documentary are available for groups, schools or organizations to show.