Looking out the window, I see the most beautiful mountains. Dense fog covers the tops, gnarly, old trees grow on the hillsides: I am at the National Chavez Center at La Paz in Tehachapi, California. It’s 187 acres of rugged terrain where Cesar Chavez lived, strategized, planned and organized during the last years of his life. It’s my first week of my new job, and let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier.
- My new job is at AFOP, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs on the Health and Safety Team and we are in Tehachapi to train 18 Americorps members to go back to their communities in Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, Arkansas, California and Maryland (I think I am forgetting some) to teach farmworkers about health and safety, specifically in pesticide health and heat stress. AFOP is based in DC, which I will be moving to next week. I had no learning curve, no time to be the new kid, it was trial by fire. BUT- everything is going smoothly. Because, guess what, most things I am doing here, I learned at my classes at SPH!
1) Community change has to come from within. Behavior change and empowerment has to come from the community itself- in this case, all of our Americorps members come from farming communities and many of them worked in the fields as children. I learned that in Community Organizing with Chris Coombe.
- 2) Use established and successful training materials. Make sure these materials are culturally and linguistically relevant. Get feedback from community members. Some people don’t speak English but Spanish, some people don’t speak Spanish but Mixtec, some speak Creole, some don’t speak or read at all. Be mindful.
- 3) Be brave and confident but know that you are not the most important person in the room. The community itself knows what is best and what works, it is your job to gently guide, to provide information, to support- not to tell them what to do, how to do it, or when to do it. I think I learned that from Melissa Valerio.
- 4) Social Media is awesome. I set up a facebook and twitter account on the first day- hopefully now more people can hear the amazing stories of struggles and overcoming. Follow us on @AFOPHealth on twitter and AFOP Health and Safety on Facebook. So thanks to the Communications Department for that info. Also fellow blogger Carrie R.- who is always on top of it with social Media.
5) Research is still important, even after grad school. Make sure you got your numbers right. Have soundbites ready (thanks to Paula Lantz for always making sure we knew that). Stay hungry for knowledge. Even if you are still in school, go to those lectures in the evening, sit in on friends’ classes, go to the library and read unrelated books, ask those questions, make appointments with professors who you don’t have a class with. I guarantee you, it will make a world of a difference.
I am going to miss Ann Arbor and SPH but I am ready for this big world out there. Just one more thing, this is what I wrote on my application to UM in 2008:
“What I am specifically interested in is how historic, socio economic, racial and environmental factors influence a person’s health behavior, and its political, communal and social solutions. I want to find answers and solutions to why so many people in this country lack the access to healthcare and positive health behavior choices.”
I feel amazing that I actually get to do what I set out to do. And now, I have the tools to make a difference.