Firas Mahdi of IFACES

Firas is a case manager for Heartland Alliance Health’s International Family Adult and Child Enhancement Services (IFACES) program – which connects refugees and asylees with mental health services and their new communities. A former refugee himself, Firas believes in the transformative power of the IFACES program – and sees just how impactful mental healthcare can be for new Americans.

  1. What got you into this work?

I am a doctor in my home country. By trade, I am trained to help people heal. When I came to Chicago I wanted to continue helping people with my skills even though I can’t practice medicine for the time being.

  1. Why is this work important to the community? To the people we serve?

This is a very broad answer, but the importance of helping those who have been affected mentally and emotionally by their refugee experience cannot be understated. Their traumas have affected their ability to merge with their new communities – and ultimately to adjust to life in the US. We are helping them to lower their symptoms which helps ease the transition to become Americans.

  1. Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?

This work is similar in some ways to my old work as a doctor because I’m helping people, but in this job I get happiness when I’m successfully able to advocate for my participants. Much of my job has to do with helping my clients get what they need from a refugee perspective – so whether that’s healthcare, or benefits, or other forms of help, I am ready to be there.

  1. What is your favorite part of your job?

The best moments is when someone becomes a US citizen. I try to be there for the whole process, to support them in any way I can. To achieve this goal, and see how they are so happy, it’s the reason I am here today.

  1. How can others help your work?

This program provides such a unique service for this community – mental health services for refugees. Our participants come to us and find someone who knows their culture, can speak their language, and can provide mental health services. This is hard to find someone who can work as a cultural broker and get to know their family and their lives as well as trying to meet their needs.