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  • Writer's pictureRachel Showstack

Community Engagement for Vaccine Equity

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

Alce su voz (‘Speak out’) has been getting to know Guatemalan indigenous individuals who live in southwest and southeast Kansas and learning about the multiple Guatemalan indigenous communities that reside in rural regions of our state. This community engagement is part of the first phase of our project “Vaccine equity for Guatemalan Indigenous Communities in Kansas,” funded by the Increase the Reach program. Kansas is home to thousands of individuals who have migrated here from Guatemala to find work and better lives and who speak indigenous languages that are not mutually comprehensible with Spanish. One example is the language K’iche,’ which is the most common indigenous language in Guatemala and also in Southwest Kansas. Meanwhile, in Southeast Kansas, we are getting to know speakers of another Guatemalan indigenous language called Akateko. Our vaccine equity project is focused on addressing vaccine hesitancy and barriers to vaccine access in Guatemalan indigenous communities and enhancing the dissemination of health messaging for those communities.

Monique García, the Project Manager and Coalition Builder for the project, and our data expert DJ Gering, representing the Kansas Civic Engagement Table, traveled to Coffeyville and Ark City in October and learned from local community leaders about the diversity of the Latino community in Southeast Kansas, the progress that has been made with digital technologies for healthcare communication, and the challenges to health equity, and specifically vaccine equity, in that region of the state. Monique initiated a partnership with Coffeyville interpreter and community leader Blanca López, who will be partnering with us on our community engagement efforts with Spanish speakers and speakers of Latin American indigenous languages in Coffeyville. They also met with Epidemiologist Allyson Payne and Cowley County Health Department Director Tom Langer and learned from them about the language line used for interpreting services for indigenous community members who visit the health department. Additionally, they talked with Mayra Fernández who serves as the new Spanish Translator and Interpreter for Ark City Public Schools (USD 470). Mayra used to work at the Creekstone Farms meatpacking plant there and has offered to introduce us to Guatemalan families in the area.

This month, we traveled to Dodge City to attend the Guatemalan Consulate mobile clinic and we met speakers of four different Guatemalan languages! Community leaders Sonia Menjivar and Marcos Morales joined us and helped people with their paperwork, and Marcos provided Spanish-K’iche interpreting services to engage in conversations about the right to a qualified medical interpreter and the resources available to support families in sending their kids to college. At the mobile clinic, we met people who had traveled from different parts of Kansas and even other states, including a family of five that had driven all the way from Coffeyville early that morning to attend the event. We are so excited to continue working with communities in Southwest and Southeast Kansas to improve vaccine equity!

Our clinical partner in Southwest Kansas is Genesis Family Health, a faith-based service that provides multiple health clinics across Southwest Kansas. Our first liaison at Genesis, Geovannie Gone, has moved on to a new position as director of the Immunize Kansas Coalition. We are excited to partner with Geovannie in this new role and we are in the process of getting to know new partners at Genesis. In the next couple of months, we will be taking additional trips to both southwest and southeast Kansas and we are planning community meetings to discuss language access rights and health information and to explore healthcare challenges and opportunities. We are also developing a plan, in collaboration with Wichita State linguistics professor Dr. Mythili Menon, to learn more about the different Guatemalan languages spoken here. Public Health Sciences Professor Dr. Nikki Keene Woods will be collaborating on our planning process for providing culturally sensitive services and information in those languages. We are also excited to welcome two student research assistants to our project: Spanish graduate student Raúl Rangel-Fernández and undergraduate student Itzia Barraza-Cordova, who will work with us in Spring 2023!

As we enter into the Thanksgiving holiday, we remember the presence of indigenous communities in the Americas before colonization, and we hope that we can take steps toward equity for these communities that have been historically disadvantaged as we move forward with our project.

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