By: Regan Kelso
It is surreal to think that it has already been one year since Mark and I became the first CHW Central Ambassadors. It feels like we were just getting started!
After accepting our roles, Mark and I talked for an hour and a half on WhatsApp about our experiences living on opposite sides of the world. We quickly built a bond over what we had in common as CHV/CHWs.
We’d spend the following months checking in, discussing blog topics, or pictures that I sent of wacky California weather. While our time feels cut short, I walk away fully understanding that old saying: “Time flies when you’re having fun!”
In our first blog, “Community Health Work is a Calling: CHWs from Kiambu and San Bernardino Connect,” I reflected on my meeting with Mark on WhatsApp. I shared what we learned about the similarities and differences working within our communities. I wondered about the experiences of other CHWs like, “How are we connected? And, How do we begin calling out to each other (for support?)”
For this last blog, Mark and I reflect on our time as ambassadors contributing to CHW Voices.
Mark: As I reflect on the past year of serving as a CHW Ambassador based in Kenya with CHW Central, I am filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. This journey has been a remarkable experience, one that has not only allowed me to learn from dedicated colleagues at CHW Central and fellow community health workers (CHWs) in Kenya but has also provided me with the opportunity to develop my career and expand my network of friends. It has been a year of growth, insight, and advocacy for the unsung heroes of healthcare—community health workers.
Regan: Being a part of CHW Central’s ambassador program was an invaluable experience. I met a lot of CHWs from other states. I learned about CHW programs in their states and the challenges they faced working within their communities. I am thankful for the opportunity to combine my passion for writing with my dedication to serve my community. I learned to not limit the ways that I can contribute to the field.
“It became evident that despite the numerous gaps and hurdles within the healthcare system, CHWs have found ways to adapt and continue their vital work, often considering these challenges as part of their norm.”
What did you gain from conversations with fellow CHWs?
Mark: Throughout my tenure as a Community Health Volunteer (CHV), I have encountered the challenges and triumphs of this essential workforce that serves as a lifeline for countless communities. It was in my conversations with fellow CHWs in Kenya that I began to truly appreciate the immense dedication and resilience we demonstrate daily. It became evident that despite the numerous gaps and hurdles within the healthcare system, CHWs have found ways to adapt and continue their vital work, often considering these challenges as part of their norm. This realization underscored the importance of organizations like CHW Central in empowering CHWs worldwide to identify and address these gaps, advocating for much-needed change within the healthcare sector.
Regan: Talking with other CHWs made me realize that I am not alone in the joys and frustrations I feel working in the community. This work can feel isolating since most of my day is spent working one-on-one with families. It was comforting to talk to other CHWs who felt the same way. We found comfort and support hearing from each other.
Also, I was happy to learn the various ways CHWs in other states are working towards evolving the field. At Parkland Health, CHWs are creating innovative blueprints for workflows around remuneration. Loma Linda University Health’s CHW program services school-aged children. In Nevada, AB191 was passed to make community health work pay mandatory. And Tasha Whitaker is working to make sure CHWs recognize burnout and practice self-care. I walk away from this ambassadorship feeling empowered to continue sharing stories from the field. Our individual vision for the field is a shared responsibility. We all have to keep forging ahead. I am hopeful that we CHWs are inching closer to a day when our efforts will align and expand the field in ways we imagine.
“CHWs must share stories! Storytelling allows us to learn from each other. Sharing lived experiences is the foundation of the work we do”
How do we begin calling out to each other?
Mark: CHW Central has been instrumental in showcasing the invaluable contributions of CHWs on a global stage. The platform serves as a hub where CHWs can amplify their voices, exchange knowledge and experiences, and gain inspiration from their counterparts in other countries. This sense of unity and solidarity among CHWs from diverse backgrounds has become a driving force, motivating them to persist in their mission of serving their communities with unwavering dedication.
Regan: CHWs must share stories! Storytelling allows us to learn from each other. Sharing lived experiences is the foundation of the work we do. We build connection, community and trust when we give others the space to feel seen and heard. While technology may still be inaccessible and a barrier in some pockets of the world, it also opens the roads to get stories to the populations that are hardest to reach . Social platforms like WhatsApp connected me to Mark in Kenya.
Has your community faced significant changes since your ambassadorship began?
Mark: Over the past year, we have witnessed significant progress in the realm of community health. A notable example is the enactment of the Kenyan Community Health Services Bill, 2023, in June of this year. This milestone legislation has provided a comprehensive framework for the delivery of community health services in Kenya, marking a turning point for CHWs in the country. With this new legislation, CHWs will finally receive a monthly allowance, acknowledging their vital role in the healthcare system. Plans to digitize records and referral systems from the community level are also underway, promising to streamline and enhance the effectiveness of community healthcare services.
As a CHV, I’ve seen many peers exit the workforce in pursuit of income-generating roles. However, the profound satisfaction that comes from knowing the positive impact one makes within the community remains a powerful motivator for those of us who continue to serve as CHWs. It is a reminder that our work transcends monetary compensation; it is rooted in our commitment to improving the health and well-being of our neighbors and communities.
Regan: More homelessness. Since COVID restrictions have lifted and renter’s assistance programs have mostly ended, several renters were either at-risk of eviction, or have been evicted. In San Bernardino county, mass evictions have thrown the city into a housing crisis and threat of litigation from Governor Newson if the city does not create affordable housing by 2029. San Bernardino resources are exhausted and many are on waitlists. A lot of people need help navigating housing and the loss of medical insurance. CHWs are an invaluable asset, and we need more.
How do you envision the future of CHW work?
Mark: Looking ahead, I envision a future where the voices of CHWs from across the globe are not only heard but also translated into meaningful action. To facilitate this, it is crucial for organizations like CHW Central to establish opportunities for CHW Ambassadors from various countries to engage in advocacy for community health. This approach ensures that progress towards the welfare of CHWs is equitable and inclusive. It is paramount for stakeholders in the healthcare sector to recognize the pivotal role of community health in achieving Universal Health Coverage and promoting good health and well-being on a global scale.
Regan: I agree with you, Mark. CHWs need the help of organizations like CHW Central to encourage and facilitate uplifting CHW voices. I envision widespread community health worker integration within community-based education, social and healthcare systems and information sharing to eliminate silos.
People who lack basic needs are often unable to comply with state laws, like vehicle registration and proper car maintanence. So many people in my community face fines and/or jail time or lose their only transportation for not being able to afford fees associated with state laws. Having CHWs in places where the most vulnerable feel at-risk can close the gaps and cut the red tape created when working across systems.
I see a future where CHWs are employed at courthouses, the DMV, and local county offices. Having CHWs in places where the most vulnerable feel at-risk can close the gaps and cut the red tape created when working across systems. CHWs create solutions to minimize punishing poverty.
Any final remarks before ending your ambassadorship?
Mark: My year as a CHW Ambassador has been a transformative journey of personal and professional growth. It has reaffirmed my belief in the incredible potential of CHWs to effect positive change within their communities and beyond. With unwavering dedication and continued collaboration with organizations like CHW Central, we can look forward to a world where the tireless efforts of community health workers are recognized, supported, and celebrated. Together, we can pave the way towards a healthier, more equitable future for all.
Regan: You said it best, Mark. We did it! CHWs from Kiambu County and San Bernardino, California connected! We met online through CHW Central and built a year-long supportive community fostered by CHW Central. I know we will keep in touch. Community health work is a calling!
Mark Mwenda and Regan Kelso would like to thank CHW Central for this amazing opportunity.