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Elizabeth Walmsley, Philadelphia, PA, USA (English)

Dear F/friends,

My name is Elizabeth Walmsley. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA and started attending Quaker meeting at age 5. I am half Australian on my mother’s side of the family, and lived with my parents in Australia for just over 10 years, from 11thgrade in high school up until the end of my first job as a high school English teacher in a remote and rural town in Western Australia.

Elizabeth (wearing saree) giving a presentation to her Quaker meeting, Chestnut Hill, about her work and trip to Nepal.

Human connections were always important to me and I have always appreciated their presence and missed them in their absence. I particularly valued Quaker community during high school in the Young Friends program, and then organized and facilitated something similar when I arrived in Perth, Western Australia. I returned to the USA in early 2005 for the same reason, missing my original community and wanting to work for the Quakers. I coordinated the Middle School Friends program for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for about 4 years and then moved on, knowing that I was called to do something else but not sure yet what that was.

"Celebrating a Hindu holiday with one of the Bhutanese families with whom I am closest. The red on my forehead is "tika", a special blessing that is given by the parents made of raw rice grains, water, and special red powder."

This was when things began to really shift. Holding down an unsatisfying job in order to pay the bills, I had more time and energy than ever before to examine what I was feeling called to do. This was when I first came into contact with the Bhutanese-Nepali refugee community in Philadelphia, and they needed a lot of help. I have become much more involved with that community since then, and in the past 5 years I have sat with many families on multiple occasions through medical appointments, sicknesses, filling out forms, making phone calls, driving to grocery stores, attending religious services, celebrating Hindu holidays, cooking and eating together, telling jokes and stories. I developed KISTA Trust (www.kistatrust.org) which is a community program in northeast Philadelphia that provides an English and citizenship teacher to the parents’ generation of Bhutanese refugees. In an effort to understand this older generation better, I lived in Kathmandu for about a month in the summer of 2014, studying the Nepali language.

Elizabeth with her parents, graduating from Bryn Mawr College with a Master's of Social Service (MSW).

Meanwhile, I was slowly discovering a direction for my career.  I went back to school and became a social worker. I chose to take my social work in a different direction however, into healthcare and aging. Of course those concerns intersect with refugee concerns too, but my primary social work focuses have been in a community health care center, an in-patient psych unit at a hospital, and now in my paid career on the palliative care team in a hospital.

Finding this opportunity with Friends Peace Teams was like a “meeting of the ways”, as we discovered our shared concern for the resettled Bhutanese community in the USA. I am happy that this new project for mental health and suicide prevention within this community will be a Peace Teams initiative because it is such an appropriate match: the Peace Teams’ ministry of visiting is very culturally appropriate for the way that the Bhutanese community visits each other in their homes. The flexibility and openness of not prescribing any required set of activities or programs allows the community to voice their needs in an honest and realistic way. And the Quaker testimonies of peace, equality, and integrity especially are much appreciated amongst such a highly traumatized population.

All of these different efforts have allowed me to pursue human connections. I am always reminded of this interest when I look at the internet and think for the hundredth time how boring it is, unless I am receiving messages from friends. I hope that I can be of some use to people in the world; that I can help them achieve a better quality of life, whether that quality comes in the last few weeks of their terminal diagnosis, or if it comes at the start of a brand new life in the “U Start Again”, USA.

 

Patience, honesty, integrity, careful listening, faithfulness, and a good sense of humor are some of the qualities that I value in a friend.

 

September 2015