for a Healthier Community
The latest CCPH member is Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, the Deputy Director of Outreach & Programs for the New York University (NYU) Center for the Study of Asian American Health.
In addition to her work at NYU and with other community programs, one of Noilyn's many accomplishments includes co-founding the Kalusugan Coalition (KC). KC is a multidisciplinary community coalition that seeks to create a unified voice to improve the health of the Filipino American community in the New York/New Jersey area through network and resource development, educational activities, research, community action, and advocacy.
In her interview, Noilyn addresses the difficulties and successes she has had with founding this unique coalition and supporting the growth of KC. By developing KC, Noilyn has been able to address a critical health need within her community and unite members from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to address this need. Noilyn discusses her belief that successful health promotion involves the creation of multifaceted partnerships across communities and disciplines, "We do not believe that health promotion rests solely as the responsibility of health workers. Since health is a confluence of the social, environmental, political, and economic realities that we face, all of us have a part in ensuring the health of the community."
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The Kalusugan Coalition
(KC)'s mission is to create a unified voice to improve the health of the Filipino
American community in the New York/New Jersey area through network and resource
development, educational activities, research, community action, and advocacy.
members include staff from Filipino and Asian American organizations as well as
artists, students, youth, immigrant advocates, community organizers, business
owners, faith leaders, health professionals, and academic researchers. But, most
of all, all our members are concerned community members who envision a healthy,
unified Filipino American community whose rights and needs are met by a quality,
holistic healthcare system.
I think it is this hope for something better that
keeps me passionate about the work I do.
Despite a large representation of Filipinos in the health sector and a high interest among community leaders to document, understand, and address health issues, there were virtually no health initiatives targeting the community. With this, I and a handful of others began mobilizing the Filipino community in the NY metro area about 4 years ago to address the lack of direct services, programs, and initiatives. This was the first endeavor of its kind to bring a diverse cross section of the Filipino community together to work on a coordinated effort on health issues targeting Filipinos in NYC and Jersey City, NJ.
In addition to the lack of culturally and linguistically tailored approaches for our community, we realized early on that there was little collaborative work among existing Filipino organizations, association, and churches. Intergenerational divisions, territorial politics, and bad past experiences with collaborations shaped the dynamics of the Filipino community in NYC. At that time, the Filipino community also had never had a relationship with an academic institution. Putting aside differences and finding ways to come together was and is probably the most challenging aspect of doing this work.
However, I think KC is working to overcome it. Our coalition continued to grow and in 2005, KC along with the NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Health received a grant to develop Project AsPIRE (a health initiative that seeks to improve health access and cardiovascular health among Filipinos through a community health worker model). We learned so many valuable lessons through this process.
In slowly building trust and deepening our relationships with key community leaders and organizations, we discovered that many of them did recognize that the work that they were doing in isolation could have a greater impact if we all worked together. And at a very basic level, we all desired to make a difference and improve the lives of our community, the majority of whom are immigrants. Our approaches were the only things that were really different. We always use this as a starting discussion point with all new potential partners. We held numerous discussions about what their expectations, hopes, and fears were in being part of this project. All this was done before any formal agreements were finalized. It was also important for KC to remain neutral to community politics. Many organizations were known to not work with certain groups and we tried our best to be upfront that we were open to working with everyone who was interested. Additionally, we overcame our challenges by learning to leverage what each partner is particularly skilled at. We held trainings/learning exchanges to teach these skills to one another. These activities also provided networking opportunities for the groups there. Many of who later initiated new projects together.
Through Project AsPIRE, KC together with
its community collaborators held 38 community health screenings in NYC and Jersey
City, in 2 years, we reached nearly 1,000 individuals through the tremendous support
of our community collaborators. Among them included partnering with 17 faith-based
organizations, 15 civic, government, and community organizations, 10 local businesses,
and 31 health providers. The project also collaborates with 3 health centers and
several private health practitioners to serve as referral sites for the participants.
First, become a good listener and ask a lot of questions. When we first set out to do this work, all we had were anecdotes. There was hardly anything written about the community's experience in NYC and its' surrounding areas. This is where the impetus to develop the Filipino Community Health Needs and Resource Assessment began. Never underestimate the community's willingness to share their stories. We were overwhelmed by the response. Many community members quickly understood the value of documenting their experiences and by doing so it provided them a platform to vocalize their needs and hopes.
I attended a training recently and the facilitator there probably summed my second "words of wisdom" the best -- "You can always learn and you can always teach." Collaborations are always a struggle to maintain since so many people are invested in doing the work for various reasons. Hopefully, by remembering that each person has something valuable to contribute, collaborations won't loose sight of why this "new" way of thinking and doing is so important.
Lastly, deliver on your promises. I believe nothing
is more demoralizing to the spirit of partnerships then losing each other's trust.
My dream for the Kalusugan Coalition is to expand our network and to sustain the resources (monetary and manpower) needed to continue our work. I also hope that the coalition can continue to foster and cultivate new leaders.
The university will be a place that respects, welcomes, and recognizes the contributions of community members. Researchers will spend as much time integrating themselves into the activities of community institutions as they do within the hallowed walls of the ivory tower. Each partner will serve as a teacher and a student. Resources and risks will be shared equitably. Community members will truly have a role in determining the best solutions to addressing their most pressing issues.
We have to think more comprehensively about health access issues. For many community members having health insurance is just the first part of addressing their barriers. They often face a health system that is ill equipped to meet their needs - culturally and linguistically. I would request more funding and training opportunities to build the capacity of health providers to better serve immigrant communities.
Through Project AsPIRE, I have also seen how integral community health workers are in connecting underserved communities to the vital resources and the health system. I would also urge policy makers to support local and national efforts to develop training and certification standards for CHWs.
I joined CCPH to be connected with others doing partnership work and to learn about the best practices. I value the constant exchange of information and sharing from CCPH members. It is also a place to openly discuss and debate some the most critical issues related to academic and community partnerships.
I think the one distinct trait I have
is that I have one foot in the door of academia and the other one in the community.
As the Deputy Director of Outreach and Programs at NYU CSAAH, I serve as a liaison
between university and community based organizations. My primary role is to establish
new partnerships and the creation of training and leadership development opportunities
for both the staff and our community partners. Additionally, as a co-founder and
chair of the Kalusugan Coalition, I've had an amazing opportunity to work directly
with many sectors of the Filipino community. This has given me so much insight
on how to better address the key barriers and also how to better harness the key
assets of my community.
To read about previous featured members click here.
If you would like to be an upcoming CCPH Featured Member, or would like to refer a colleague, please email CCPH at firstname.lastname@example.org