McDonald County, Missouri, is a small community in the very southwestern-most part of the state that few people are aware of. Some residents describe it as a beautiful part of Missouri with rolling hills and numerous creeks.
But there is more than scenery to McDonald County, as its communities - Anderson, Noel, Pineville, Southwest City - are home to an incredibly diverse mix of people. Towns now include a white population, Hispanic immigrants, Somali and Sudanese refugees, individuals from Burma and Micronesia and new immigrants are entering the county every day.
So here are some residents of the county talking about life, about health and about their home.
Debbie Scheel has been working as a nurse practitioner in the Southwest City Clinic for 20 years, ever since she and her husband bought a small farm in McDonald County. She said she has watched the community grow and change as new immigrant groups moved into the community.
"It’s funny, I looked at in the waiting room, oh I don't know sometime in the last couple weeks and there was equal numbers of white and Asian and Hispanic and black. Which for an area this small is pretty diverse. I mean the culturally diversity in this area is unusual I would think for an area, a town this small or a county this small."
Aden Ahmed is the younger brother of Imam Siyad Ahmed, the religious leader of the Somali community in Noel, Missouri. He said faith is a central, fundamental thing for their community.
"No matter where they are from, we are still from one country originally, you know, and we have the same culture, but since our country...doesn't have, you know, very central powerful government right now, that's what forced these Somali people to...immigrate and also move to a different country for a better life. That's why I mean, they came from Kenya, they came from Uganda, they came from Ethiopia - just to get a better life."
Stephen Douglas is the Marketing/Public relations coordinator for Access Family Care, the federally qualified health clinic in Anderson, which serves both the medical and dental needs of the community. He said he wished more people would pay attention to the problems being faced by the residents of McDonald County.
"It's frustrating to work with these underserved communities because...we put a lot of effort into sending money and help and assistance of all kinds to third world countries like in Sudan or in Somalia or in Haiti...but right here in McDonald County Missouri we've got issues that are very similar that nobody seems to care about, and I just don't understand why we would put so much effort into taking care of overseas issues before we even take care of our own."
Lydia Kaume works as a nutrition specialist and assistant extension professional for the University of Missouri – Extension. She has been working with the various immigrant communities in the county, and is an immigrant herself. She moved to the United States from Kenya almost 9 years ago to attend school at the University of Arkansas - Fayetteville, and said she always knew she wanted to work with an extension program. She will be beginning classes on chronic disease prevention with immigrants in McDonald County soon.
"I am an immigrant personally so I understand that's it a very different culture - different way of life and it's totally - understanding all the pieces and making sure that everything fits is a tough thing to explain to somebody - you got to live it to know it and it takes time."
Eden Stewart teaches nutrition in the area schools and to some of the immigrant communities on behalf of the University of Missouri – Extension. She said she is new to the area, but enjoys working with the various communities.
"To me it's always exciting to have a new group of immigrants come in because they really just showcase, a new culture and a new ideas and a new perspective on things, you know... and I think with a new group of people coming in their is a new set of eyes and experiences and things that really make you reflect on yourself."