After spending three days at the US Mexico border a group of 14 college students met with SEAHEC Executive Director, Gail Emrick, and staff, to reflect on their immersion learning experience. The three day tour of border community health services was organized by SEAHEC. FRONTERA (Focusing Research on the Border Area) is a research internship, one of several courses that SEAHEC hosts in partnership with the University of Arizona. SEAHEC partners with the UA College of Public Health and the College of Medicine to create border service learning experiences offered to undergraduate, graduate and medical students at the university. The FRONTERA Program is an ongoing service learning offering sponsored by the UA College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). The program’s goals are to promote health services research in border communities while “increasing the pool of under-represented researchers interested in examining health disparities in the border region.” Students participating in the FRONTERA program can expect to gain hands-on research training assisted by one-on one mentoring and reflection.
Through the program, students learn about public health issues along the US/Mexico Border Region by allowing them to have a hands on research experience in the community. During the course, each group makes the trip south from Tucson, to SEAHEC, and the border community known by locals as “Ambos(both)Nogales,” which refers to the fact that there is a Nogales on each sides of the border.
The FRONTERA students were a diverse group. Some had national as well as international origins. Some were Arizonans, others came from Atlanta and Indiana, and even New York. Others were from as far away as Venezuela and Cuba.
For their border tour, the students have a packed schedule, which includes visits to facilities and interviews with stakeholders on both sides of the border. At the end of each day, the group gathers at SEAHEC to reflect and share experiences.
Looking back on the experience, one student commented: “I appreciated a learning experience provided from a variety of perspectives including the local Sheriff, the Border Patrol, the Migration First Aid Station and SEAHEC; and not being given a one-sided perspective.”
The FRONTERA program is designed to expose students to, among other things, how State and Federal policy affects lives in border communities. To provide a concise but detailed picture on those impacts, students have the opportunity to hear from health care professionals, law enforcement officials, as well as local people on both sides of the border.
Students expressed appreciation for the chance to have first hand experience. “When you actually see it (the border) it provides a much broader perspective than just sitting in the classroom,” one student told SEAHEC staff at lunch on Wednesday.
A service learning environment, where students get first hand experience, helps to remedy some of the negative perceptions about living and working in border communities that the media contributes to.
“I found how much the media plays a large role in negatively portraying the border. We saw positive determined people here, not like on TV. ”
On Tuesday morning, Local Sheriff Tony Estrada provided his perspective on how living on the border affects the community. Following the Sheriff’s talk Gail Emrick, SEAHEC’s executive director, provided an overview on border health issues and led a discussion on US Latin American Political and Historical relationships. The students learned how those relationships have influenced Immigration policies on both sides of the border. For a first-hand account of how these issues impact communities and law enforcement, the students toured a local Border Patrol station, and discussed with Agent Raymond Bean common health issues encountered there.
“It made me feel grateful for being here (in the US) and having what I have; while making me sad for the migrants and their treatment.” one student reflected.
Another student who participated, a member of the Navajo Nation, reflected on the similarities between the Navajo peoples’ experience with US policy, and today’s immigration policy.
On Wednesday, students learned from Mercedes Gameros Mercado about differences between the US and Mexican health care systems. Dra. Gameros Mercado is Regional Coordinator of Health Programs at the Sonora Office of Public Health for the US Mexico Border Health Commission. She provided an overview of how health insurance works in Mexico, and took them on a tour of Nogales Sonora’s General Hospital.
After lunch, students visited the “Wall,” with SEAHEC staff Hannah Hafter, and Erin Sol, who also took them on a windshield tour of Nogales. Ms. Hafter also provided an overview of Immigration reform, and how it is likely to impact local communities.
The students expressed both outrage at the immigration situation, and admiration for the people who live here. One student spoke out after seeing how the wall separates the Nogales, Arizona/Sonora community that was once more united. “I was overwhelmed and angry at our system,” she said.
The students also toured Mariposa Community Health Center, the largest provider of community health services in Santa Cruz County. They visited the Health and Wellness department, and had a chance to meet with Mariposa’s community health workers, also known as Promotoras de Salud. Community health workers provide a range of services which include health education, helping patients navigate the health care system, and working in the community to implement local projects that impact community health, such as the newly established farmer’s market and community gardens.
Wrapping up on Wednesday, the students returned to SEAHEC to assemble dehydration prevention survival kits, and to watch “389 Miles-Living the Border,” a documentary on border communities across the state. The film was created by Nogles High School graduate, Luis Carlos Davis, who traveled the 389 mile Arizona Sonora border, interviewing people from both sides along the way.
On Thursday, the students had a chance to distribute the survival kits they made when they walked over to Transportes Fronterizos, a bus station where deported migrants can find transportation home. As they distributed the survival kits, student met with people who had trekked north to find a better life “on the other side,” after which they visited the Migration First Aid Station, which is located just a few streets south of the US border in Nogales Sonora. There, Nurse Norma Quejada, treats everything from dehydration, and blistered feet, to gunshot wounds. Nurse Quejada is often aided by medical students on rotation, who are recruited by SEAHEC to volunteer at the station.
The Frontera Border Tour is part of SEAHEC’s ongoing efforts to recruit health care personnel to work in border communities. SEAHEC’s mission is to improve the recruitment, placement and retention of culturally competent health professionals in rural and underserved communities of southeast Arizona. SEAHEC has four pillar programs to develop the pipeline of health workforce needed in rural, tribal and underserved Arizona. These include Future Healthcare Leaders Program (Recruitment), Health Professions Student Training Opportunities Program (Placement), Program for Retention and Quality of Care (Continuing Education/CME and CHW training) and Native American Health Workforce Development Program.
For more information please contact Erin Sol, email@example.com 520-287-4722