Post by Lauren Sheehan, MPH – Health Behavior Health Promotion, 2016
This semester I took CPH 597E: Public Health for Community Wellness. I was very excited to go to South Tucson and work with the La Escuelita after school program. We would be teaching the kids about various health and wellness topics and preparing them to run in the Tucson Marathon Family Fitness Fest. I felt that I had a lot to teach them, but didn’t realize how much I would be taking away from the experience.
Each week, we would go to La Escuelita for 2 hours. We would read with them, help with homework, and then have an activity related to health. All of the kids were low-income and many come from Spanish-speaking homes. The community was very close knit and many of the kids were related to each other and were growing up side-by-side. It was unlike any community I had ever worked with. What struck me the most was how resilient and supportive these kids are.
Their supportiveness was particularly apparent at the Family Fitness Fest. Each child completed the 1-mile obstacle course. As expected some of the kids finished really quickly and others struggled to finish. A few of the kids who finished near the beginning took it upon themselves to go back and help their friends who were still finishing. Once they found another child who was still going, they would run with them, encouraging them to finish. I would not have expected an 8-year-old to do something like that on his own, but this was typical for these kids.
Earlier in the semester, my classmate and I had raised money to buy the kids running shoes, water bottles, and sweatshirts. They were really appreciative. After the race, a few of the kids asked me if they could keep the shoes we had gotten them and were amazed when I told them that they could.
The kids had organized a toy drive for children with cancer as well. They asked that the leftover money from our fundraising go toward buying toys for the toy drive. It was really heartwarming to see that their empathy goes beyond their own little community. There is a misconception that people who receive help can be entitled and these kids completely shatter that belief.
Those are just a few examples of their empathy and resilience. I don’t think that words can describe all of the things I took from this experience. I certainly learned more than I would have in any classroom. I hope to continue working with the La Escuelita program throughout my time in Tucson.