MEZCOPH Border Health Service Learning Institute – Part 1 of 5

Intro.jpg2018 marks the ten year anniversary of the MEZCOPH Border Health Service Learning Institute (BHSLI).  Founded by Dr. Cecilia Rosales and Jill de Zapien, the week-long course employs an intensive, field-based model which immerses students, faculty and community partners directly in border communities which are facing huge health disparity issues. Together we implement programs that directly support community efforts to address these disparities. Each service activity is structured around reflection questions which provide the framework for understanding the role of public health in the elimination of health disparities.

BHSLI has been taught in Yuma / San Luis Rio Colorado; Nogales, Arizona / Nogales, Sonora; and Douglas / Agua Prieta.  This year we conducted the course in Douglas / Agua Prieta. We partnered with the following organizations:

  • Consulado de Mexico, Tucson
  • Frontera de Cristo
  • DouglaPrieta Works
  • Cochise County Health Department
  • Chiricahua Community Health Center
  • Secretaria de Salud, Agua Prieta
  • Cafe Justo and Cafe Justo y Mas
  • CREDA (a substance abuse treatment center in Agua Prieta)
  • Southeast Arizona Health Education Center (SEAHEC).

Thank you to all our community partners for collaborating with us!  Luis Valdez, Libby Valdez, Abby Lohr, Robert Guerrero, Kate Ellingson, and Jill de Zapien taught the course.  

We asked students to reflect on their border service learning experience.  In a five part blog series, we will give you a glimpse of the BHSLI experience.  

-Blog series Edited by Abby Lohr, MPH, Health Behavior Health Promotion PhD Student


Part 1

Speed Dating Agua Prieta: First Impressions

I had no expectations entering Mexico for the first time but retained my silent excitement for crossing borders. The other side of borders represent adventure and new perspectives, and I eagerly collect passport stamps as evidence for seeing another place. When you enter Mexico from Southern Arizona, there are no passport stamps, just a bizarre line for cars to roll through the government designated line. Agua Prieta welcomes visitors with beautiful architecture, vibrant murals on the iron border posts, and elegant street signs in the main part of town. The Arizonan counterpart, Douglas has no art on the wall just a stark gravel road traversing a once cohesive valley. The closest gesture is a tan sign attached to the sidewalk proclaiming, “Bienvenidos to Douglas,” though the sign is almost illegible for drivers and emulates a forced handshake.

-Katey Redmond, MPH Student Family and Child Health, Global Concentration

Part 1a

Once crossing the border, it was visually surprising how two different worlds could be so similar. One side full of opportunity and freedom, the other filled with scars of fear and hope. Even when familiarized with the border region, the similarities and differences from the frontera in San Luis Rio Colorado (my home town) to Agua Prieta’s were obvious just like the Wall itself. Tiendas (shops) from one street to the other, people walking in the middle of the road like it was a park, and even graffiti portraits in abandoned properties reflected the parallels from different perspectives for those with the benefit to enjoy both worlds.

-Edgar Villavicencio MPH Student, Health Behavior Health Promotion

Part 1b

Working in the community garden of DouglaPrieta Works provided each of us with time to think and reflect on what similarities and differences we saw between Agua Prieta (A.P.) and our own hometowns, Tucson, and even the sleepy town of Douglas situated just beyond the wall. Between the desert landscape spotted with agave cacti, scorching sun, and the prominent Mexican culture— represented through language and cuisine— there are more similarities than differences between sister cities Douglas and Agua Prieta. However, what differences do exist, impact the lives of the residents tremendously; primarily, the privilege to cross. During conversations with local women over a shared meal, labor in their garden, and conversations about their journey to A.P. one trend was made clear, an inability to cross to Douglas. Bureaucracy has taken away rights of A.P.’s citizens that American’s flex every time they cross the international border for the convenience of supermarkets, affordable pharmacies, and delicious meals. With every time we cross we are granted the ability to explore a new community, to utilize resources, and to experience life in a new place. This adventure left me grateful for our privilege to travel, but longing to extend such a privilege to those just beyond the steel posts of the wall.

-Emma Conners, MPH Students Health Services Administration


Are you inspired to get more involved in border health?  Become part of the MEZCOPH Learning, Understanding and Cultivating Health Advocacy (LUCHA) initiative.  To join the listserv and receive updates about future LUCHA events and meetings, please sign up for our listserv.  



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