Charlas entre mujeres: Building Connection, Conveying Trusted Health Information to Latinas
Thousands of Mexican nationals living in the United States head to their local Mexican Consulate for administrative support every year. Taking advantage of this, the Mexican government has established Ventanilla de Salud (VdS) offices within the Consulates across the US for those visitors, offering Mexican nationals and other Latinx community members health information and connection to local health resources. At the VdS, health advocates get a clearer picture of the mental health needs of the visitors – and the change during COVID has been striking. Unsurprisingly, mental health issues are on the rise. A new survey conducted by VdS mobile units found a 10.71% increase in anxiety among VdS visitors in 2021 compared to 2020, as the pandemic wore on. In general, isolation – which is well known to be detrimental to mental health – grew during the pandemic, as people social distanced and avoided social situations.
Yet, Spanish-speaking immigrant women across a large swath of Texas – from the Austin region, and across the US-Mexico border – now have an avenue to reduce their isolation, network with other women, and learn about pressing and emerging health issues that may affect them and their families. Each month, the Ventanillas de Salud (VdS) in Austin, Del Rio, and Eagle Pass, Texas, offer Charla entre mujeres, a free online-only meet-up featuring local health experts who share health information on topics of note, and a low-stakes comfortable space for women to have conversations around health and well-being. Yet, the Charlas are much more than just monthly health chats.
“It's wonderful to see women interacting, sharing experiences, giving advice, cheering each other up, and seeing that they are not alone in this journey. This helps women to gain confidence, and reduces stress,” explained Roxana Pineda, MPH, the Ventanilla de Salud Coordinator in Austin and a co-host of the Charlas. The Charlas are just one of many services offered by the three VdS offices. Migrant Clinicians Network acts as the fiscal agent for three Texas VdS offices, in Austin, Eagle Pass, and Del Rio. At each of the three Ventanillas, a Migrant Clinicians Network coordinator organizes regular health fairs which bring accurate and timely information to some of the most vulnerable communities in their regions.
Pineda notes that those who take advantage of the VdS health fairs are frequently left behind in health communication efforts and do not have relationships with local health providers – and these health fairs are some of the only services they may have access to. Through the Austin Ventanilla, she’s enabled hundreds of locals to get critical vaccinations including the COVID vaccine, kidney and blood pressure screenings, vision tests and glasses, and much more by partnering with local health services and health advocates. She first developed the Charlas in response to a growing need among women in her community: a lack of information specifically for Latinas, and very few opportunities to join together in an open, nonjudgmental arena to share stories and health concerns.
“There are very limited resources that we can find in Spanish on these topics,” Pineda said. “The Charlas are really important for Spanish-speaking women, who can’t otherwise find trusted health information.”
Each month, anywhere between 15 and 30 women join in the Charlas, for which the three VdS offices alternate hosting. Offered on Zoom and aired on Facebook Live, the Charla begins with a local expert who speaks on a particular health topic. After the health topic portion is over, the floor is open for conversation. Recent health topics covered include emotional intelligence, happiness, personal development as an empowered woman. This Saturday’s Charla will focus on the impact of financial health on mental health.
“It's a great resource to have,” Pineda said.
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