Access to information and resources is a crucial factor that affects the health, prosperity and overall well-being of immigrants throughout the United States. Colonias, which are unincorporated communities that often lack access to basic infrastructure such as running water and electricity, are frequently overlooked when resources are being disbursed. More than 30 years, Colonias Development Council of Las Cruces, New Mexico, saw this need and stepped up to address it.
Viewed as “an important bridge between colonia families and services,” their program, Promotoras de Apoyo Familiar, educates and empowers residents through a series of trainings. Specifially, promotoras are special kinds of ambassadors, usually women, that “work in and outside of their own communities and participate in a variety of activities to learn more about mental well-being, community development, social services and health.” Common issues they focus on include labor rights, immigration, the electoral process, home buyer education, CPR and opportunities in higher education. The project also offers a series of more intensive trainings on issues such as healthy homes and sexual assault.
The promotoras then share key information about resources and services among the community. Often, they are colonia community members themselves; thus they make sure to communicate with their neighbors in languages that they are comfortable with, and in manners that are culturally sensitive.
The promotoras also advise the Colonias Development Council about what courses will be most valuable to them and their neighbors. At the end of the year, some promotoras receive a small stipend, depending on funding and if they have attended trainings throughout the year.
Diana Bustamante, the executive director of the Colonias Development Council, describes the goals of the program as being three-fold: first, to create leadership development so that women can help themselves, their families and community; second, to make the promotoras agents of change; and third, to use community mapping to connect resources to those who need them and identify how they help.
“We believe the first transformation is on an individual level and that the individual needs to improve themselves before they can help their families and communities. The program emphasizes the idea that ‘you are the seed of change’ and the focus is on internalizing the idea that development must first happen first internally,” said Bustamante.
CLINIC applauds Colonias Development Council and the many volunteers who continue to create a welcoming and safe community for immigrants living in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the surrounding areas.