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.
Jeevandeep Kaur is a 21 year old CHEF representing the Brays Oaks neighborhood as a CHEF. We interviewed Jeevandeep about her experience in the pandemic as a community health worker. Below is a brief transcript of our conversation.
Myself, personally, I think my experience has been a bit more productive and positive than most of my friends and colleagues. Before the pandemic, I was dealing with a little bit of depression, but as the pandemic progressed, it was a nice reset for me to figure out a lot of what I wanted to do. Then the fellowship came in and it's been a very steady incline from there. So, pretty well. I'm lucky enough not to have the financial worries that most of my community faces right now. It's positive for me, but I don't think that's very common overall.
I'm a bit frustrated to be fair. I'm seeing a lot of older adults, and some younger adults, as very closed off to the information presented by the government or by the CDC, and it's frustrating to see how many countries almost got rid of COVID, or at least overcame COVID compared to the United States, which is on a rapid incline and doesn't really show any signs of decreasing.
I understand that lower income communities can't always wear PPE or some are working and have to go to work and can't do self-quarantine. But I've also noticed that there's a big issue with some adults that just refuse to wear masks or are finding problems or difficulty abiding by suggestions and rules to not wear a mask or to sanitize or to clean their hands, which is a little frustrating, a little confusing.
Working with the city, there's hope. I'm able to change it. Before I couldn't, and there was not really much backing me up if I wanted to say something. But now, outside of "hey this is a good idea for you to wear a mask and to stay clean and this the six feet apart," I can actually say, "I've been working with people who know about this stuff and they are also recommending that.”
I'm not necessarily worried about myself. I'm actually really happy to see a lot of young adults working on helping. I myself am not worried about getting the virus compared to those that are older than me, but I'm still worried about passing it on by accident. It's weird being someone that can't be in trouble if I'm not immuno-compromised, but someone who has a responsibility of making sure I'm not one of the few that passes it on. And recently, there's been developments where younger adults are able to get COVID and get serious effects from COVID.
Yes. Very much, yes. It's given me more time to work towards talking about or fighting for equality, whether it's Black Lives Matter, or financial inequalities within the country. Part of me is very upset that it's happening, but part of me also sees the effect that it's having on those who now have time to fight for what they believe is right, and are able to go out and talk about things and protest and or just get their ideas and concerns out there. Beforehand, most students my age would be in college pretty much all day or working pretty much all day because not everybody has free time and with this, a lot more people are able to notice the inequalities and work against them.
Initially, there was always the thought of older elders who needed more digital literacy and how we could do work on that. But working within Brays Oaks, it's interesting to see just how less important digital literacy is and the growing importance of having more languages available for important documents and or health care related things. The environment as a whole can affect many people, especially in the clustered apartments that are very small, and that affects how a person reacts to their day to day life, compared to how if you live in a nicer apartment with more space, how that's affecting you and how that plays a bigger effect, especially this summer where we're in a pandemic and many of us are staying indoors.
Mental health is a big thing and mental health is oftentimes not talked about, especially in minority groups and/or Eastern cultures. Mental health came more to the forefront as well as language barriers. Initially that wasn't a big thing, but after watching and thinking, children are not supposed to be a parent's translator. Organizations and the company should be able to provide translators for their adults, instead of having like a 15 year old or a 12 year old translate to and for their mom.
So, it's a few things. It's language barriers and mental health and how there is a big discrepancy in that. As well as just how much of a difference is seen in communities or the environment, whether it's well kept or not kept at all, it has an effect on the mental health and as a small thing day to day we might not notice it. But in a time like this in summer or in a pandemic where we can't really get out of the communities that we're living in, it's actually a very big, important thing, and not a lot of people think about that.
I'm a big advocate for the homeless population, helping the homeless population and such like that. The curriculum had a lot of information on how to take care of your mental health or how to wear a mask or how to wash your hands. However, I felt that there was a big need to explain why certain things work the way they did, why you needed to wear a mask, what purpose it had. And that was something useful, but community wise, I felt like there needed to be more how-tos for Latinx families. Quite often they're multi-generational, and without more information on how to work with a multi-generational household when you don't have space to self quarantine, what can you do? There's not a lot of options. But what can you do for the disabled or those who are homeless? Like, what do our smaller minority populations need?
I felt that there could be more information on why something was important because oftentimes you could tell somebody how, but why is always very useful, and I believe that treating our communities as intelligent people and people who can understand complex thoughts and ideologies, that having a why and explaining that, would be useful so that they themselves could understand. It could also talk about how to motivate people and motivate our community to possibly mask up or do other things instead of telling them that they have to.