For Philipo, becoming a citizen of the United States marked an important milestone on his path to recovery. A native of Burundi, Philipo arrived in St. Louis nearly seven years ago as a refugee. He did not know the language, and the American culture was quite different for the man who was a farmer in Africa. The challenge became even greater when he started exhibiting signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and major depression. He experienced flashbacks and vivid nightmares.
“He witnessed his family being killed with machetes, and he was left for dead,” Places for People Mental Health Specialist Brady Sones said.
Early in his time in St. Louis, Philipo was connected to Places for People and the Faith Team, which helps refugees who are survivors of torture. When it became apparent that he would need more intensive services and longer-term treatment, he was transitioned to the Impact Team, one of four Assertive Community Treatment teams at Places for People and only 10 in Missouri.
Impact Team supervisor Nicole Morani explained that ACT is the “highest level of mental health care at Places for People.”
Places for People has helped Philipo with his physical and mental health care needs. This starts with his ACT team, which receives help from the Places for People Healthcare Home team and Family Care Health Center to monitor his physical health. They are “all very connected, very constant, treating the whole person.”
In addition to working toward recovery for Philipo’s physical and mental health, Places for People staff worked with him to prepare for his citizenship test. Sones said Philipo was “very diligent and focused” in his preparation. They studied for the test three times a week.
Becoming a citizen was a major milestone, because it allowed him to retain his Social Security benefits and “not worry about his income being cut off,” Sones said.
Philipo passed the test and in the spring participated in a naturalization ceremony.
“I am very happy to be a citizen of this country and I am very grateful that Places for People helped me,” Philipo said.
Sones drove Philipo to and from the ceremony, and was part of a team celebration back at the Places for People Recovery Campus afterward. “It was great to see that because he’s worked so hard,” Sones said of the ceremony, calling it the “culmination of two-plus years of working together.”
Through specialized, trauma-informed services, Places for People has helped approximately 400 people who survived various forms of torture in their home countries successfully gain U.S. citizenship over the years.
The hard work toward recovery continues for Philipo who takes English classes at the International Institute of St. Louis. “He wants to continue to learn English and become more involved in the community,” Sones explained.
Among Philipo’s future goals are to earn his driver’s license and find employment.
He said, “I like living in St. Louis and I appreciate how people help me here.”