MEZCOPH’s Border Health Service-Learning Institute - 2020
Compared to past versions of the course, Border Health Service Learning Institute (BHSLI) 2020 was radically different. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, for the first time we held the class online during the fall semester rather than one week in August. How, might you ask, do you do service learning online?!? With stellar community partners and an experienced instructional team – that’s how! While our course format was new territory for us all, we held true to our core goal: to explore the role of advocacy in the intersections between public health, migration, and economics on the U.S./Mexico border.
In place of in-person visits to border health agencies, we asked students to conduct interviews with community partners to gain an understanding of the partner’s role in the health of border communities, especially during a global pandemic. The BHSLI students interviewed Emma Torres from Campesinos sin Fronteras, Janine Duron from CITA H2-A Services and Resource Center, Ileana Arvizu - a farm labor contractor in the Central Valley in California, Diana Gomez, Benito Lopez, and Cynthia Espinoza from the Yuma County Health District, as well as Amanda Aguirre from the Regional Center for Border Health and Alfredo Sanchez from the Hospital General de San Luis Rio Colorado. Several partners also gave presentations including Bryna Koch from the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health, Gail Emerick from the Southeast Arizona Health Education Center, and Agent James Avens from U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Yuma Station. We are so grateful to our partners for their willingness to be part of BHSLI 2020.
We also employed a variety of technologies to make the online version of BHSLI as interactive as possible. We met as a class over zoom video conferencing and then used nearpod and Google slides for in-class presentations and activities. One of the best parts about BHSLI is the food. To get around the fact that we weren’t meeting in-person, we sent each class participant a Grub Hub gift certificate prior to each class and encouraged everyone to support their local Mexican eateries. Additionally, one of the skills students develop in BHSLI is note taking and journaling. To help students connect their handwritten notes to our online class, each student and instructor received a Rocketbook – a notebook with which the user can transform their handwritten notes into searchable PDFs.
We ended the course with a final reflection by asking the students to make public health recommendations for improving border health going forward. Based on what they learned in the course, here is what the BHSLI 2020 students suggested:
- Culturally relevant educational video series to inform people on how to best gather for the holidays, if they plan on doing so
- Acknowledge that physical touch is culturally important, but emphasize that this could spread Covid-19
- Acknowledge that there are still mitigation measures people can take if they gather
- Partner with churches or other trusted community leaders
- Free rapid testing
- Community resources for multigenerational homes to quarantine
- Require safe work environment for farmworkers
- Provide one PPE package for each worker: mask, hand-sanitizer, thermometer, water bottle
- Provide an eating environment where workers are able to maintain a distance of a least 6 feet apart
- Provide hand washing stations that are accessible
- Provide frequent coaching to encourage workers to following healthy Covid habits
- Provide at least one Covid test before returning home
- Advocate for a reform in the migrant worker process through modification and expansion of visa processes, involving the development of the policy workers who regularly cross the border illegally and those who employ these workers to maximize the policy’s utility.
- Create a university credit course template for border area and farmworker studies so that easier access for students across the United States to travel to the border for in-person experiences in lieu of international study-abroad over the summer with a goal of 50 students in the first year. Development of the curriculum will require involvement of groups along the border and those who work in the region.
- Inaugurate a coalition of ethical farmworker contractors with at least 10 firm-members to develop industry standards including learning from Covid-19 pandemic experience by May 2021. This coalition will be guided by a community advisory board made up of migrant workers who will advise and provide feedback on issues.
- In 2021, develop a government subsidy program for farms that pay living wages with healthy labor practices. Farm subsidy plan should be informed by lived experiences of migrant farmworkers, feasible practices of labor contractors and by research and data from public health and medical professionals. In 2022, propose farm subsidy plan to Farm Bill revisions in 2023.
Finally, after the course concluded, our final ‘thank you’ to our community partners included delivering a packet of COVID-19 educational materials, masks, and other prevention items to assist with their community outreach activities.
A heartfelt THANK YOU to the BHSLI 2020 students for their patience and resilience over this semester and to our community partners for their support and guidance. We look forward to BHSLI 20201!
Finally, many thanks to this year’s teaching team!
- Katherine (Kate) Ellingson, PhD
Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, MEZCOPH
- Abby Lohr, MPH
PhD Candidate, Health Behavior Health Promotion, MEZCOPH
- Mario Trejo, MPH
PhD Candidate, Epidemiology, MEZCOPH
- Jill Guernsey de Zapien
Director, Border and Binational Public Health Collaborative Research, MEZCOPH
- Robert Guerrero, MBA
Chief, Office of Border Health, AZ Department of Health Services