VdS El Paso Supports Hundreds of Migrant Workers on Health & Safety
[Editor’s Note: Leticia Irigoyen is the Coordinator of the Ventanilla de Salud within the General Consulate of Mexico in El Paso, Texas. In this blog, Leticia shares her experience educating migrant workers on occupational health and safety through the Capacity Building on Workers' Health and Safety program funded by Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. The project is funded by The Susan Harwood Program from OSHA.]
When at the end of 2021, Leslie Martínez, then National Coordinator of the Ventanillas de Salud, called to ask if I was interested in participating in a Worker Health and Safety Capacity Building project with Migrant Clinicians Network and OSHA to instruct migrant workers on occupational health and safety, my immediate inner answer was a resounding “yes!” I was incredibly honored that my office was chosen as one of the two Ventanillas de Salud to participate in this important project in 2022.
First, I had to check with my supervisors. They were concerned because, as coordinator of the Ventanillas de Salud of El Paso TX, my workload was heavy. But my insistence convinced them otherwise, and I assured them I was able to take on the process, as this important project was not only about providing occupational health, safety training, education, and related assistance, but also about providing this information in Spanish, the language of my community, with materials developed by MCN that were designed to educate the migrant community on how to stay safe on the job while also knowing their workplace rights under OSHA law.
I am not going to lie -- there were some moments when I thought to myself, "What are you getting into, Leticia?" But I have never been frightened by challenges or hard work, and here I am, eight months later, almost on the verge of meeting the goal of having educated 200 migrant workers on occupational health and safety and their labor rights. It has not been easy, but neither has it been impossible. And yes, it has been highly rewarding.
Each workshop has been unique. In some cases, we had little attendance and at other times we had an unexpectedly high number in attendance. I can compare each workshop to drops of water that fill a glass, each drop as meaningful as the other, and each drop reinforcing my decision to participate in this project.
I remember the first workshop I offered, during a mobile consulate in Deming, New Mexico. Of the15 people who had signed up with the local organization that was supporting me to recruit participants, only two people showed up, in addition to one more person whom I personally recruited among the consulate clients. But as the saying goes, "the show must go on," and although I was a little disappointed and nervous about my first presentation, I did not allow my nerves and the low attendance to interfere with my goal as a health promoter: to inform my community, whether it was one or three people at a time.
What did I learn from this entire experience? That, partner agencies/organizations are essential in helping us achieve our objectives, but also that my team and I must step out of our comfort zone, as we did with this project, to create content ourselves and share it with our audience. We must all work together.
Something I insisted on a lot during my presentations was that participants share what they had learned with their friends, co-workers, and family in order to create an expansive wave of knowledge. Working with MCN and OSHA on this project has been an unforgettable experience. I loved observing the reactions of the participants when they learned new information, and I had the opportunity to reinforce and complement this information by bringing participants’ own knowledge and experiences into the workshop sessions. I am very flattered by the trust that MCN had placed in me to be a bearer of such knowledge.
Participating in this Worker Health and Safety Capacity Building project with MCN and OSHA has not only allowed me to educate migrant workers, but also to improve my abilities as a presenter and my capacity to work as part of a team. I have managed to create an excellent team with my fellow promoters at Project Vida, a nonprofit supporting people of limited resources, as well as the fiscal agency of the Ventanilla de Salud, who have been with me throughout this process by facilitating my work, allowing me to focus on the presentations while they supported the administrative details necessary for the project, like helping participants with filling out evaluations and making sure participants filled out and signed attendance records. They cheered me on all the way through this project.
Over the past six months, I have learned that our community is eager to learn, to be considered, to learn about their rights, to express themselves, and to exchange ideas. Especially among female workers who are preparing to enter the cleaning service workforce, for whom I made small adaptions to the presentations to include safety in the use of chemicals. They were eager to narrate their personal experiences on the subject, and many thanked me for having considered inviting them to participate in the program, because cleaning work is not usually greatly valued.
Although I have fulfilled the objective of this project, my plan is to continue sharing the knowledge gained throughout this experience by bringing these workshops to more migrant workers.
I am especially thankful to MCN’s Alma Galván, Dina Gonzalez and Renée AboAmshe, for all of their unconditional support, patience, and flexibility during these months when I have had the pleasure of working directly with them. Also, I am thankful for the support received from my partner organization, Project Vida, and my colleagues, the promotores in the General Consulate of Mexico in El Paso, TX and all our partner organizations that made it possible to bring together groups of people that were willing to learn about occupational health and safety.
About Leticia Irigoyen:
Leticia was born in El Paso, Texas but grew up across the border in Ciudad Juarez, where she went to high school. Leticia attended the University of Texas at El Paso, where she earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public relations.
In 2018, Leticia obtained a certification as a Health Promoter and a year later, she began working in the Wellness program at Project Vida Health Center, a non-profit organization that offers a wide variety of services to people of limited resources, including affiliation to low-cost community clinics. In April of 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, and after having worked two years in this position, Leticia was appointed by the Consulate General of Mexico in El Paso, Texas to the position of Coordinator of the Ventanilla de Salud.
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