If you travel to the US, don’t get sick! by Yasmine Alice, Algeria

In the first day of the new year of 2017, I landed in Tucson Arizona. It was my first time in the United States of America. I was about to begin my semester abroad as an exchange student at the University of Arizona. I was full of energy and excitement, ready for all the adventures that were to come in this new country. I wanted to be exposed to different aspects of the American culture, visit as many places as I could and meet different people.  I had built high hopes in anticipation to this journey, I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Unfortunately, my joy did not last long. After two weeks in the US, I got a tooth infection. My mouth was swollen, the pain killers were ineffective and I couldn’t sleep all night.  I headed to the clinic as soon as I woke up, hoping to be properly taken care of as I had paid for health insurance before my arrival. I was shocked to learn that the insurance did not cover dental care, and that if I wanted to be treated, I would have to pay for everything. I was told that I would need to pay 1,200 $ if I wanted to keep my tooth. I could not afford that by any mean.  I felt helpless and the only Idea in my mind was: I should drop out  and go back home for treatment… it would cost me a lot less.  I felt helpless and somehow, assaulted by the situation. Was it my fault to get sick? Don’t I deserve treatment even though my parents are not rich? It was one of the darkest moments during my semester,  I felt my whole experience would be ruined because of my financial situation. I sacrificed my teeth and pulled it off because it was the only thing I could afford.

After such a displeasing incident, I constantly thought about all the students in my university that could not afford health insurance and how many risks they were facing. I felt terrible for  all those excellent students, working hard to become productive member of their society and contribute to its prosperity, and still, might face the terrible circumstances I faced  because they did not come from a rich family. I had the luxury to go back to my country and get treatment, they would not.

I come from a country where healthcare includes dental care. I also live in Egypt where, with a payed health insurance that includes dental care. I never had to worry about the amount money I would need to pay if ever got sick. But this incident was the reason I became vividly aware of the health care issues in the US.

When my friend Leah talked to me about the Spring Lobby Weekend 2017  I did not hesitate and applied. It was a golden opportunity to tackle the Health Care issues and represent the youth of my university and the families in my state, that suffer or might suffer because they are unable to afford health care in this so called very rich country.

The Spring Lobby Weekend is an event organized every year by The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). It is a set of workshops, sessions and panel discussions about a specific topic every year related to an urgent issue that the house representatives will discuss. Those decisions concern millions of Americans.  This year, the two main topics were Medicaid and SNAP (Food stamps given to needy people half of which are children).  The republicans were trying to pass a bill that would cut funding for these two programs.

Few days before the vote on the bill and with more than 400 participants from all corners of the country, I got intensive knowledge about the Health Care system in the United States. I learnt about the economic and social aspects of it and the historical approach to this crucial issue.  I had the chance to hear from social, political and economic specialists and advocates about the necessity to stop such a bill. Most importantly, I  heard people tell their stories; if not for Medicaid or SNAP they would have been dead or disabled, or gone to school every day hungry.

I have never been exposed to such diversity! I have met people from different classes, of different colors, different religions and with different perspectives. We exchanged ideas about the racial, social and economic issues the country faces and how it effects each of us differently. We formed an alliance to fight for social justice and equal opportunities and we promised to support each other in our path against discrimination and injustice.

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The event ended by a visit to the Capitol  where each participant would lobby with his/ her state representative(s) and senators to vote NO for any bill that cuts funding to Medicaid and SNAP. Right before going to our lobby meetings, we  had the pleasure to listen to a talk from Minnesota house representative Mr Keith Ellison. After giving a beautiful speech where he emphasized on the role of youth in politics and encouraged us to run for positions to change the system, we walked

17453657_956107711159282_1677522721_ohim to the Capitol.   Zhoya and I, both of us Muslim International students.  Me from Algeria and her from Pakistan. We asked the same question: What should we do to change the mistaken idea Americans might have about us, his answer was as follows: “Look at you, you are young ladies, studious and eager to fight for what is right in this country, however many people have never met a Muslim, so tell your stories and let them know who you are”

And here I am telling you my story. My story in lobbying with the senators and house representative of my state Arizona. What I suffered from my teeth infection and the helpless situation I found myself in motivated me to act in favor of an affordable health care for those who can’t afford it. It gave me a strong message to deliver to the senators for it was real and not a simple number. As small as my role seems to be I am convinced, that along with the efforts of my fellow lobbyist friends, it had an effect. The Republicans did not even pass the bill due to the pressure they received from all sort of activists including us. And even if they later on passed their bill (on a very tight vote) it was a victory of a battle and the war will continue.

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