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.
Fanesse is a 20 year-old student of Prairie View A&M University serving the Alief community. We interviewed Fanesse about her perceptions of the pandemic and experience as a CHEF. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
I attend Prairie View A&M University. I received my associates degree at 18, but then I changed majors and had to start all over. I moved here 12 years ago from my home country, Cameroon and since I got to America, I’ve always lived in Alief. So, I would say I know my community well. I hope I'm serving them well because I would like to make sure their needs are met and the things that they want are being implemented within the time of the fellowship. If not, I would like to extend my time and just work on my community.
If I can implement some plans and changes, I would like that to be done in other communities that are going through the same struggles as mine. The community I live in has about 56,000 people and so far during the coronavirus pandemic, the ZIP code I’m staying in, 77072, has the highest amount of cases. I feel like some of the reasons are because half of our population is Hispanic or Latino, and we're not really serving them well. So I would like to look into that. For example, I went to La Michoacana and people didn't have masks on, like it wasn't being enforced and people were touching food with no gloves. It was just like a normal, typical day. So I went around in my community to see why people were not taking this seriously and like why they thought it was a typical day in America and not a typical day in America with the virus. I know now that I need to be careful when I touch things, when I interact with others, like people are just high five-ing each other, hugging and stuff, and I'm just like, “Oh wow, stay six feet apart guys!”
The language barrier is also a big thing for my community actually, and I feel like it's because we have a high population of Hispanic people and a high population of other non-English-speaking people that live within the community. Alief has so many different ethnicities, so many different backgrounds of people, and we should try to target that as a whole.
When the flu and HIV came out, people were panicking, people thought the world was going to end. Now that it's stayed for a while people are not worried about it, but I think they should, especially young people. I don't think I'm a typical young person because I don't like going out, but young people are going out and they're partying. I see like a lot of my friends or associates on their social media accounts, going to clubs, doing this and doing that. And I'm just like, “oh no.” The sad thing is that I know a lot of young people, whenever they don't see someone close to them get hurt, they don't take it seriously. For example, I knew someone that was going out every day having a good time. Like, literally living their best life because they were thinking this virus was not serious, it was only for old people, and stuff like that. Sadly, a relative of hers died. And then she was like, “all you guys need to take this seriously and you guys need to be careful, don't be going out,” and I was just like, “why didn't you like have that same mindset when other people were getting sick? Why did it have to be someone close to you?”
Information that was key…I would say definitely how to communicate with people when we call them, how to build trust. We basically went through training on communication, which I found really helpful. Then our curriculum, we had classes based off of what we felt like our communities needed. We looked at what people do in the workforce that is good and not good, and thought about how to better ourselves in regards to being a better community health worker. I found that really important.
I would say yes and no. In regards to like income, health and social class, I would say yes. But I think those inequalities have been there for a while now. People receiving better health compared to others during this time is sad. They're trying to help everyone, but sometimes they can't help everyone due to insurance issues. I don't really have much of an opinion on that.
I learned that my community needs to take this pandemic very seriously and that there are ways for us to help and bring forth that awareness for them. We just need to be more gentle, and it takes patience and time. What I learned about myself...I learned that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was, and something I'm still continuing to learn is that I don't have to solve every problem. I'm taking this community health worker thing like really seriously and I think everyone should. The problem with me is I like to have everything done, but how am I going to get everything done within four weeks? So what I've learned about myself is, Fanesse if you can get one thing put out there, if you can implement one plan or if you can do one town hall where your idea is being heard, that's enough. We actually had a report this week for the tele-town hall and I gave all my ideas on what I would want to happen in my community. So if one of those could be implemented, I would be really happy and I feel like I have seen growth in myself and my community during this time.