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Community for Children – Harlingen, Texas

Posted by Preeti Dave, MD (a third year Pediatric resident from Kaiser Permanente, Oakland while on a global health elective in Harlingen, Texas with Community for Children).

Week 4

The last week was a whirlwind. We wrapped up at the three ARISE sites and prepared to present our work. On Monday, we went back to ARISE South Tower and conducted more interviews. We also saw the women in the Clase de Salud work on collage projects to talk about good and bad relationships with significant others, family members, and other people. The interviews continued to go well, and we heard more about the dog problem we’ve been working on. Two mothers mentioned the same street corner having trouble with a local dog that was sometimes behind a fence and scaring children waiting for school, and other times loose on the street and scaring them. Elizabeth had prepared a talk on dog bites, so she gave them a handout with information on resources in the community. Maria, the animadora for the Clase de Salud, was kind enough to arrange a time for her or another volunteer to take around two of the medical students in CFC working on a project with the juvenile justice system. They wanted to tour “Little Mex”, which apparently is the colonia the South Tower site is located in. After leaving, we worked on completing data collection and creating the final presentation and abstract in the afternoon.
On Tuesday, we again visited the Las Milpas Clase de Salud, where a nurse was talking about diabetes. She had a great handout in Spanish on diabetes. Although I had a little quiz on diabetes to go over with the group, time was short, so we decided Elizabeth’s talk on dog bites would be more useful. The participants got so worked up about this issue. Many had a child that had been bitten by a dog, and Nasaria the animadora or coordinator of the class even told a story about being fined by animal control and her dog being quarantined after biting her son. Since it was the second bite, they didn’t go back for the dog, but she and her son were heartbroken to lose him. In the afternoon, Elizabeth went to her career development session with Cathy Monserrat, a psychologist and expert in the field, not to mention long time friend of the CFC course director Dr. Marsha Griffin. I tried to do some more work on the projects, as well as deal with our ongoing post-car accident saga. We had Marsha and Cathy over for dinner, which was really fun.
On Wednesday, after a little mishap where our car’s GPS took us down a dirt road to an empty field full of trash and a boat full of tires, we arrived at ARISE Muñiz, but there was no Clase de Salud scheduled, as they were wrapping up all the classes for the block until after the holidays. Esperanza had brought in some of the women from the class to talk with us, and so we chatted about diabetes and Elizabeth gave her dog bite talk, which she was getting really good at in Spanish.
In the middle, a group of high school students walked in, on a tour with one of the animadoras, who was explaining in Spanish that we’re pediatricians talking to a group of women about diabetes. There was some “lost in translation” with the student trying to explain to the rest of the group what was going on, as in the translation was, “well clearly they’re having some sort of meeting”, so I stepped in and gave a little background. They were from a Lutheran school in North Dakota down in the Rio Grande Valley to do missionary work, so today they were going to repaint the community center at Muñiz. We wrapped up with the women, and I even was able to talk briefly with Ramona, our go-to person from ARISE about our project and follow up on the car accident.
We met a very nice sociology doctoral candidate working on her thesis about immigrant women in the Rio Grande Valley. She too really appreciated ARISE’s status in the community. Women trust ARISE, so they’re more likely to talk to her for an interview if introduced by ARISE. We also have been repeatedly impressed by their leadership and community involvement. We didn’t have time to stay for lunch sadly, as there were still final projects to be done and my career development session. As we hurriedly left, I paused at the chain link fence between the yard outside the community center and the road. There were loose dogs. The dogs behind fences were barking at them, marking their territory. We paused, and the pack meandered down the street. They were a large pack of 6-8 muscular mean looking dogs, plus a Chihuahua. One of the high school students tried to call the Chihuahua, and we explained that there was no guarantee the dogs were vaccinated, and they could bite him. The students had seen a lot of dogs around in the few days they had been in the Rio Grande Valley, but hadn’t realized what an issue it was. Once the dogs passed, we got into our car and we felt a bit safer. Those dogs scare me. After my career development session (which was great, of course), I joined Elizabeth who was working on our projects again, as the days were counting down.
Thursday morning was our last Spanish class. The daily Spanish classes were done, and I was sad to see them end. Mark the teacher, and Marcela the assistant and Mexican society expert (she did her thesis on professional women in the lower classes of Mexico), have been great. I know I didn’t talk about them every week, but being able to focus on Spanish grammar, speaking, writing, and just chatting one hour a day was really helpful. After Spanish class, we had a few lectures from Dr. Minnette Son, a pediatric intensivist and co-creator of CFC. She talked about international medicine and her work abroad, followed by taking us out to lunch. Thursday afternoon was a combination of finishing work, going for “buy one get one free holiday Starbucks” as a group and creating a huge line because of our confusion, and trying to go to the gym one last time before meeting the rest of the group for dinner. Dinner was fun, we played “high-low” and talked about the highs and lows each of us experienced in the month. It was good to know that some things that bothered me also bothered other people. We didn’t always take time to reflect as a group during the month. We had gone to a chain restaurant with gluten free options so Elizabeth could eat, but dinner was a generalized disaster for all of us (I found a piece of plastic in my soup), and the restaurant ended up “comp-ing” us for all the food. We tried to tip on what the food would have been because some in the group had worked in food service before and felt the waitress shouldn’t be short-changed because of the kitchen. Thursday night was the generalized panic of packing and preparing for the last day.
Friday morning we didn’t have time to bring our luggage to class, so we decided to come back to the apartment afterwards. The last session was great. We all ate, presented our community advocacy projects, turned in abstracts, and presented our reflection pieces. I talked about how it was hard to conceive of families living on a single income of $30 per day, and the things one could buy with $30 a day. It was hard for us all to say goodbye, we had become a big family, and now just to go back to work (or to interviews for the fourth year medical students) was difficult. Elizabeth and I made our last trip to our apartment before heading to the airport, the last time we will likely be roommates in addition to co-workers and friends. As I sit on a plane back to Oakland, I am grateful for this opportunity I had to learn about the Texas-Mexico border, to meet and work with so many amazing people, including faculty, participants, everyone at ARISE, and everyone who opened their homes, clinics, and lives to us. It was better than I could have imagined.

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