Finding Laughter and Joy through Mental Health Programming

“Here [in America] we’ve built anew, new friends and new memories and new everything, but we still have shared backgrounds and sometimes we remember these things together.” – Selma

Selma is bilingual and often helps translate for her neighbors.

Originally from Baghdad, Selma has lived at Marian Park Apartments in Wheaton for the past seven years. Marian Park is a multilingual community where residents speak at least 14 primary languages besides English. As someone fluent in Arabic and English, Selma hates to see others left out and shares her language skills to help her neighbors when she can. “Language is a hard barrier. I am happy when I feel that they understand.”

Selma Moves from Baghdad to Chicago

Selma worked as an accountant in Iraq for many years. Her mastery of the English language allowed her to work for international companies with branches in Iraq. But nearly 20 years ago, the continuing Iraq Wars and the outbreak of the Iraqi Civil War made it too dangerous for her and her family to remain in Baghdad. Selma and her three children waited in Jordan for four years before receiving approval to join cousins in the Chicago area in 2010.

Now her children have grown up and Selma is a proud grandmother to three grandchildren. Before she moved into her apartment at Marian Park in 2016, Selma lived with her son. She decided to move out and find her place after he got married. Selma was nervous about the prospect of living on her own. “But as soon as I moved here, I started sharing activities and knowing people,” she says. “I ask, and I receive the help I need.” Selma’s son leads a busy life in a nearby west suburban community but visits her every weekend. She sometimes tells him, “You should thank God for all the things I can do here without you!”

Multilingual Community Embraces Joy and Laughter

In 2023, Selma started participating in Marian Park’s new mental health programming. She praises the program for the laughter and joy it brings to the residents and appreciates the translated materials and professional interpretation that make the group accessible. While Selma often helps her Arabic-speaking neighbors, she explains, “It’s not easy. If I don’t understand the full thing, I can’t tell them the full thing…also, I need to learn something!”

Selma joins friends participating in the community’s new mental health awareness program.

Selma explains some of what she has learned from the group, “We know things, but we don’t understand why it happens to us. Like sometimes we don’t feel that we are happy because there is no sun. [The workshops] give us some common sense to understand ourselves… For me, I found many things. I understand it, and I love it.

Increasing Mental Health Services in DuPage County