Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment
At a recent heart health workshop in Chicago’s northside neighborhood of Rogers Park, Filipino Americans (more commonly referred to as “FilAms’) gathered together to learn more about a cardiovascular disease which along with stroke, causes more than half of Filipino deaths. FilAm adults have been shown to have higher rates of diabetes, higher body mass index, and lower rates of physical activity compared to other Asian Pacific Islander subgroups.
In 2010, a few Filipino community‐based organizations including the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE) came together to develop a lay health training called Community HOPE (Health Outreach, Promotion, and Education) to improve the quality of life of FilAms by facilitating access to basic community health education as well as disease prevention. One of the graduates from this training is Rizalina or “Sally” as she’s known to most people.
Born in Marinduque, an island province of the Philippines, Sally has lived in Chicago for the majority of her time in the United States since she immigrated here in the early 1990s. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education while living in the Philippines and used these skills to teach kids in a Montessori program. Fluent in Tagalog, Sally also began teaching FilAms interested in learning the language as part of her effort to preserve and share the Filipino heritage, culture and tradition to future generations. It was during this time that she became involved more actively in becoming a community health worker for Filipino American health with AFIRE.
“Filipinos, particularly new immigrants, are susceptible to stress from work and family issues. Some of their coping strategies include unhealthy eating so outreach and education for Filipino Americans must address diet, blood pressure, cholesterol control, physical activity and stress,” said Sally.
In addition to health, Sally also sees an important role for community health workers in social justice and voter empowerment. Voter registration among Asian Americans (including FilAms) is the lowest among all race and ethnic group in the country and Asian Americans remain one of the most politically under-organized, under‐engaged segments. During the 2012 election campaign, Sally was actively involved in mobilizing FilAms to get out and vote through an outreach campaign to make sure that the Filipino community’s representation translates into increased electoral participation to ensure that the right leaders who make decisions about the health and well‐being our community get elected into office.
“Being a community health worker is about getting people to see health more holistically, instead of looking at just a certain aspect of health. Often, when people say ‘health,’ they mean treating diseases. But when I think of health, I think of mind, body, and soul,” Sally further added.