The rising costs of health care are a challenge for every Asian American ethnic group in Minnesota, but one cultural group is trying its best to take care of its own.
SEWA-AIFW is a Minneapolis-based organization that works to serve the health needs of Asian Indian Diaspora from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Gayanese, Trinidad, Tibet and the Carribeans. Sewa means “to serve” in the Hindi language and AIFW means Asian Indian Family Wellness. The group’s mission is to provide total family wellness.
Raj Chaudhary Sewak is the Executive Director of SEWA-AIFW. He believes his ethnic group has the false perception of being “the ideal rich minority group.” But he says that is the farthest from the truth.
“Only 20 percent are rich or well enough to have the health resources they need. There are 30,000 Asian Indians in Minnesota and yet our seniors are the third poorest in the state according to the 2000 US Census. There are problems with domestic violence, homelessness and lack of education on health issues,” Sewak said recently.
Asian Indians make up the second largest immigrant group in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
In September SEWA-AIFW held two successful free health fairs in Minneapolis and Maple Grove. At the events, participants had free access to physicians, dentists and other health community resources. The group often partners with different health clinics throughout the Twin Cities.
Last year the University of Minnesota Hospitals and Clinics sent over specialists to several fairs, while North Memorial Hospital brought technicians to provide free cholesterol and glucose testing. Medical professionals often can see more than a 1,000 people at these events.
Sewak says it is amazing how many people come to the fairs, not knowing “they are walking time bombs who have high blood pressure and other serious issues.” The Executive Director believes cultural barriers are partly to blame. “The American medical system is confusing. Many of our clients do not understand the concept of a primary physician. The process in India is that your doctor should treat you for everything once you walk in their office. This is so different from the United States, where doctors specialize in different areas.”
Like most groups, Sewak says the cost of medical care is what is primarily fueling the health disparities in his ethnic group. Many have pre-existing conditions which makes situations even worse. Those who have insurance often have very high deductibles they can’t afford.
SEWA-AIFW began as a small group of volunteers and since its creation in 2004 has gained a dedicated and growing group of culturally trained volunteers. The group is continuously involved in research, trainings and collaborations with other organizations to improve its programs and better serve the Asian-Indian community.
There are many more upcoming events. For more information go to www.sewa-aifw.org or call 763-234-8301. The group also has a crisis line for those who need urgent help. That number is 952-912-9100.