McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Understanding immigrant and refugee extreme suffering and displacement

Published: September 26 , 2006
IWCH brochure
The plight of refugee women and children is the focus of a symposium at McMaster University on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of International Women and Children's Health)

As people sit down at the International Women and Children’s Health symposium at McMaster University this Saturday, millions of women and children in war-torn countries are on their feet, fleeing the violence and fear that has become part of their daily lives.

Now in its eighth year, the symposium spotlights the traumatic and tragic experiences these refugee and immigrant women and children face – from torture and rape to malnutrition.

This year, the emphasis is on rebuilding healthy communities for those who have been displaced by disaster and war, coupled with a closer look at local health issues that refugees and immigrants encounter once they arrive in Hamilton.

The symposium will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery.

Featured speakers are global experts with personal involvement in the plight of displaced people, including Dr. Olive Sentumbwe Mugisa, a reproductive health specialist at the World Health Organization in Uganda. She has assisted in the delivery of health services to women in northern Uganda where there has been extreme suffering and displacement.

Dr. Ndioro Ndiaye, deputy general of the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), the leading inter-governmental organization providing humanitarian help to migrants and refugees, will speak on what is known and what has been learned about women, children and displaced people.

A variety of workshops will be open to the 300 symposium participants, covering issues as diverse as ethics, sexual violence in Darfur, the sexual exploitation of children, building a birth centre during war and advice on how individuals can get involved in international health. Representatives from Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, the Red Cross, Settlement and Integration Services (SISO) and Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief will lead the workshops.

In conjunction with the symposium, a student night is being held Friday at 7 p.m. in Bridges Café ($7 at the door). Ethics and aid will be discussed followed by the showing of the documentary The Lost Boys of Sudan, the Emmy-nominated production that follows two orphaned Sudanese refugees on their extraordinary journey from Africa to America.

Again this year, a photo contest is being held for medical students who have been on international electives. The photos will be auctioned for charity. Last year’s photo winners were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Two IWCH scholarships will be awarded to students arranging clinical electives in health care in a developing nation. As well, a grant for one research abstract will also be awarded.

Throughout the day, there will be a number of musical performances, including an international children’s group from Toronto. There will be numerous booths set up by groups such as Amnesty International FTC Canada, Healthy Smiles for Haiti, artist Heidi Scarfone, Micah House, MMI International, One Child, Reweaving a Life Project, the Red Cross, Save the Mothers, S.I.M. Canada, SISO, Ten Thousand Villages, YMCA and Youth Challenge International.

Further information is available on the IWCH website at

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