Seeing communities suffer from the effects of COVID-19 and the massive potential in young people to mitigate the spread of the virus, the City of Houston created the Community Health Education Fellows (CHEF) program. The CHEF program hires young people to be trained as community health workers and contact tracers. They work in 22 Houston super-neighborhoods identified as most affected by COVID-19. We interviewed the first CHEF cohort to gain insight into some of the community work they are doing in the coronavirus pandemic. Read more CHEF stories.
Aaysha is an 18 year old high school graduate from YES Prep Gulfton representing the Gulfton area in the first cohort of CHEFs. We interviewed Aaysha about her perceptions of the pandemic and her experience as a CHEF. Below is a brief transcript of our conversation.
Since I recently graduated high school in May, I didn't quite realize I wasn't able to receive a proper graduation. And so this pandemic has taken away that moment all high school seniors have been waiting for and ruined that moment for us. Also, my family has been trying to adjust to the guidelines of this strict social distancing that’s being enforced.
As a CHEF, we work on many projects. Last week we were working on the curriculum with Mary (She's a part of UT Health and worked with the group of people who created the curriculum) and we read through the 40 pages. It was a lot to read but we broke into groups and we discussed what changes can be made. We have a lot of group discussions and group check ins and meetings every day. That's a typical, everyday thing and then after the check in, we go off into breaking into our own meetings and we also do a lot of research.
Well, as a youth, I think that this pandemic is a lot more complicated. Like, anyone can get this virus, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that everyone should be worried about contracting the virus if they're actually following the safety guidelines. For those who choose to ignore this severity of the situation, there should be some way for them to understand and get more serious about this situation. So I think that like this pandemic can be like a way for everyone to learn and grow in their own individual way.
I learned that in my community, there are a lot of non-English speakers. The majority is immigrant families. And when I look at my ZIP code's demographics, the majority is Hispanic--20,000 people here are Hispanic and possibly non English speakers. Not everyone is, but mostly in families where uncles/grandparents have like English as a second language. Yesterday, I was going to take a picture with my group mates at my work site and a man walked up to us and asked us in Spanish, "Where's the school?" and he did not speak any English. And so my co-workers had an issue trying to translate where the school was, and I feel like he was also a part of this community. So I think that we should be having more English classes for those who are non English speakers so they can get the information that they need.
The curriculum is quite complicated for any normal individual to understand because there are some terms that not every individual can understand. There could be a few changes that can be made so people can actually learn it and the length could be made a bit shorter. That way, especially for those in my community who have issues reading long paragraphs and everything, especially stay at home moms and their husbands—these families—understand day to day terms. They don't understand high level medical terms that mostly those from universities speak with.
Another thing would be more funding because I know that most of the population in my community uses METRO as their mode of transportation. So more funding for that or lowering the fare cost if we work with the City of Houston and METRO services.
I learned skills like patience and listening, because I'm not really that great of a listener but joining these daily check ins and meetings, meeting new people and such. I have learned how to actually listen and intake the information that is being said and actually take time to understand it so that I can tell what they're speaking about in context.
My plan would be to start my fall semester. Hopefully I'm going to do an associates degree with translating and interpreting as my major, and I hope to still continue and volunteer and serve my community. I used to volunteer at a nonprofit organization near where I live, and it's called Baker Ripley. They partner with other organizations and we hold events. I used to volunteer there for like a year and a half, so I hope I can continue doing that, serving the community.