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Six graduate students from the University of Arizona will depart for the Mexico-Guatemala border on May 12 to study the effects of migration on health and explore the root causes of northern migration.
The students are participating in a unique nine-day Border Health Service Learning course through the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
"We will look at the health impact of migration on communities including the dangers of migration, the effects on families left behind, and examine successful and sustainable business models that reduce the need for migration," said Andrew Gall, a Master of Public Health student with a concentration in health behavior and health promotion.
Gall served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala from 2006-08. He first proposed the idea of taking the college's Border Health Service Learning course further south (to the Mexico-Guatemala border) after participating in a similar course on the U.S.-Mexico border last fall.
Café Justo is one such model of a sustainable business. Based in Chiapas, Mexico, the fair trade coffee grower cooperative roasts and sells coffee out of its Agua Prieta, Mexico, facility. The students will visit farmers who grow the coffee in Chiapas and study the effects of the business model on the community's physical, social and economic well-being, the culture of the farmers, and why or why not they would consider migrating.
"We believe that the major reason people migrate out of their communities is to find work to feed their families," said Gall. "By paying farmers fair prices for their coffee, we believe a business like Café Justo is enabling people to remain working and living in their communities, keeping families together and decreasing the need for people to make the life-threatening journey north."
The program is also designed to be an exchange of knowledge on border issues. As a service, the students will present information to the Institute of Migration about policy issues and the risks and dangers associated with migration in the Arizona-Mexico border region. In turn, students will learn about migration issues unique to the Mexico-Guatemala border.
During their stay, students will visit migrant shelters and conduct health interviews and homestays with coffee farmers while observing the border health and migration issues unique to this area.
By the end of the trip, students hope to identify the relationships among economics, politics and health at each border; how various systems (health care, governmental and non-governmental organizations and agencies and businesses) interplay to affect health; and how to advocate for a stronger focus on public health through partnerships.
"The Border Health Service Learning Program provides our students with the real-world opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the public health issues of our day and begin to understand the complex relationships of migration, economic development and health in our border communities," said Jill Guernsey de Zapien, associate dean for community programs.
"Today, these students are actively pursuing additional skills to participate in and reflect on the realities of these issues in another border context. It is these kinds of experiences and skills that are crucial to building public health leaders within a global context."
Faculty members de Zapien and Dr. Cecilia Rosales, associate professor and director of Phoenix programs, are the course instructors and have been advising the students on how to approach international migration through a mixture of health advocacy, political, economic and cultural viewpoints.
During the trip, the students will work with a variety of international and local organizations, including the Institute of Migration, the Peace Corps, Cafe Justo, The Regional Center for Public Health Research, Grupo Beta Sur and many others.
The students will discuss their findings in a public presentation at the Zuckerman College of Public Health during the Fall 2012 semester.