UMD Health Education Program Reaches Rural Families in Honduras
Illustration by Shutterstock
More than 10 years ago, when Ali Hurtado began talking with Latino families about nutrition, family connectedness and taking care of their mental health, he noticed one clear phenomenon: An overwhelming majority of the participants were mothers. A father himself, Hurtado undertook a revised endeavor, one that focused on fathers and their role in family life.
Now, Hurtado, University of Maryland Extension specialist and assistant professor of family science in the School of Public Health, has expanded “Padres Preparados, Jóvenes Saludables” (Prepared Parents, Healthy Youth) to a new audience of families in San Vicente, a rural part of Honduras.
The international pilot program, a partnership with the Baltimore-based nonprofit OCHO, engages Central American families on parenting, sexual health education, gender identity, nutrition, mental health and more. Hurtado and his team, including Darya Soltani ’21 and Ph.D. candidate Matthew Rodriguez, worked with a local physician and educators to tailor the program to the needs of families in San Vicente.
“Understanding the local context is very critical,” said Hurtado. “You reach out to the community, and you learn a lot more about their assets, values, and the capacity and community needs.”
Initially funded by the National Institutes of Health, and most recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Padres Preparados program follows principles of community-based participatory research, an approach in which community members are actively involved in shaping the research.
With PowerPoint presentations, group discussion prompts and hands-on activities, Hurtado and his team have worked with churches, schools and other organizations in Maryland to reach Latino families, who, according to a 2020 Brookings Institution report, are less likely than white families to have health insurance and are less likely to receive treatment for mental health issues. Hurtado and his associates, including collaborators in Minnesota and California, train community-based educators, who then share the curriculum with others.
Despite the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurtado and his team were able to train Honduran educators through Zoom, share workshop content and presentations online, be part of the implementation process through WhatsApp messages and participate in group discussion virtually. “Our connection with the community has been through the educators, who are trusted by their friends and neighbors,” said Hurtado.
The key to the program’s success, both domestically and abroad, has been to value the participants as equal collaborators, said Hurtado, rather than to assert an agenda. “They really take the lead. The community members say, ‘Here are some of the assets, and some of the gaps in the community.’ We build from those to address some of their health concerns.”
For example, during the pilot program with 15 families in Honduras, parents expressed a need for support when discussing sex and gender identity with their kids. “Initially, when we started the partnership, I didn’t think that might be the topic of interest,” said Hurtado, but the group reoriented toward those areas, working with local educators to share information and resources.
“It’s really important to see what they (the community) are really looking for and not just impose them what we already have created,” added Soltani.
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