So often in public health we are focused on solutions to problems. Inevitably we are looking for deficits and ways to address them. It’s easy to forget that the communities themselves know exactly what they need, and sometimes only need access to a resource or a skill.
With recent news stories about the border focusing on family separation, violence, and political battles, it was easy to come to the border reflexively assuming such a deficit mindset. However, we would like to create space here to acknowledge the assets we’ve seen present in border communities.
A key asset in effectively addressing public health issues is social and community connection and integration. Particularly in rural communities, developing authentic and trusting relationships can be the key determinant in whether a health initiative is successful. Both staff of Frontera de Cristo and the members of the DouglaPrieta Works cooperative exemplified a commitment to personal connection that has allowed their organizations to grow in their capacity to provide opportunities to community members. Aligning with their mission to “promote a mutual aid ethic among community members with a goal of economic self-sufficiency,” DouglaPrieta Works has leveraged their personal relationships in the Agua Prieta community to grow their cooperative and expand the skills of their members, thus providing important opportunities to generate income for their members. Particularly for women in the cooperative, who expressed a lack of employment opportunities for women in Agua Prieta once they married, the chance to create and sell their own goods with DouglaPrieta Works has been essential to both their financial and overall well-being.
-Rachel Leih, Master of Public Health Student: Global Health
Throughout our interaction and service learning in the borderlands, I’ve been humbled and invigorated by the refreshingly positive attitude of the community members and partners. I was most educated by a discussion had at DouglaPrieta Works when a community member expressed a genuine sense of hope for her community on the Mexican side of the border. She showed us how attitude is a huge asset for individual and community empowerment. This outlook encourages looking within the community to strengthen a sense of belonging and pride. By relying on the community solidarity, this organization has had the chance to develop incredible self-sufficient projects for economic independence and serves as a great example for other communities in Mexico to follow.
-Rachael Phenicie, Master of Public Health Student: Global Health
Chiricahua Community Health Center:Winchester Heights:
A key asset in the border town of Douglas, Arizona is Chiricahua Community Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center. Like many rural health centers, it has struggled to retain qualified providers. When Dr. Melk arrived to Chiricahua in 2006, he was the only pediatrician Douglas had ever had. However, Chiricahua has emphasized building connections with the community, and has since been unable to keep up with the number of children requesting appointments. Today, Chiricahua has twenty pediatricians across the county. Rather than constructing new health centers, Chiricahua chose to renovate two local schools slated to be demolished in order to revitalize the community in which it serves. With all of these successes, I have been impressed by the way Chiricahua embodies supporting the community holistically. It serves as a model to demonstrate that health goes beyond just treating disease, but rather can be supported by providing jobs in the community, creating accessible health care, supporting early childhood learning, and building relationships in the community.
In addition, one of the greatest assets for the community of Winchester Heights for its continued development are its community health workers (CHWs). As members of the community in the northern part of Cochise County, CHWs have rapport with residents and can advocate for social justice and access to resources. I think the CHWs of Winchester Heights are unique in their ties to the South East Arizona Health Education Center (SEAHEC) and the University of Arizona. This partnership allows them more access to resources, yet is also challenging in how to create sustainable projects. This experience in Winchester Heights strengthened my understanding that CHWs play a pivotal role at capturing the voices of the community. They are a valuable resource for me when I consider community projects in areas where I am an outsider.
-Jessica Seline, Master of Public Health Student: Health Behavior Health Promotion
The first stop in our service learning class was the Consulado de Mexico (Mexican Consulate). I had very little knowledge of the responsibilities of a consulate prior to the visit, but I came away from the meeting with a sense of satisfaction that the staff was going above and beyond to provide services that were of genuine need among the Mexican community. In my mind, their most notable achievement was the creation of an onsite 24/7 bilingual call center in 2008 called the Centro de Información y Asistencia a Mexicanos (Center for Information and Assistance of Mexicans). This call center is staffed by fifty employees on a rotating shift that answer calls from all over the world, although their services are likely indispensable to a myriad of border crossers and concerned families. For many, this is the best resource they have to get the most up-to-date information on the status of their loved ones or in the case of the border crossers themselves, emergency assistance when they are in danger. In order to allay any fears their callers may have, status of citizenship is never questioned by the staff.
-Elizabeth Hardesty, Master of Public Health Student: Policy and Management
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.