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Indigena Health & Wellness Collaborative

It is estimated that there are 10,000-15,000 Yucatec Mayans and other indigena living in San Francisco. The Indigena Health and Wellness Collaborative is a partnership between Instituto Familiar de La Raza and Asociación Mayab that works to improve the health and well-being of Indigena families in San Francisco.

Mayan children in parade

The Indigena Health and Wellness Collaborative (IHWC) seeks to increase access to health and social services and to create and foster opportunities for emotional and spiritual healing and to promote wellness among Indigena families in San Francisco. Our programs reflect the importance of language, culture and tradition as powerful generators of health and wellness. Our community’s cultural traditions have been practiced for thousands of years, passing from one to generation to the next.

IHWC supports and organizes cultural events and ceremonial and spiritual activities that promote community building, strengthen Indigena social networks, and provide opportunities for emotional and spiritual healing. These activities also create opportunities for early identification and intervention in families struggling to overcome trauma, depression, addictions, and other health and mental health problems.

Program services and activities provided by the Indigena Health & Wellness Collaborative are intricately linked to honoring the customs and traditions of the Indigena as a means of diminishing cultural isolation and enhancing their cultural resilience.

Indigena Health & Wellness Collaborative

The Indigena Health & Wellness Collaborative offers the following services and activities:

  • Wellness Promotion Activities: Spiritual ceremonies and cultural activities provide opportunities to inform, educate, and engage Indigenas. The collaborative utilizes its wide network of relationships with traditional healers and community-based groups to integrate health promotion and risk reduction messages into traditional celebrations, ceremonies and other cultural activities. The collaborative develops culturally congruent outreach materials and design strategies that capture the interest of Indigena communities and encourage their participation. Community forums are organized to stimulate dialog about individual, collective, and historical trauma among Indigena families.
  • Cultural Events/Group Activities: IHWC supports various traditional ceremonies and other cultural practices and activities that already exist in the community. Providing outreach, materials, and organizational assistance, some of the events IHWC supports include Dia de Los Muertos, Tonantzin, Fiesta de Colores, Mayahuel, and Año Nuevo Maya, among others. Group activities include El Encuentro de Culturas Indigenas de America, a large gathering of Indigena cultural groups, and Sanando el Alma, an event focused on providing tools to deal with trauma. In addition to actively participating in this event, IHWC provides Information & Referral and Early Identification services for gathering participants.
  • Outreach and Engagement: Street and venue-based outreach is conducted in neighborhoods and locales where local Indigena frequent. Outreach efforts are used to introduce Indigena to available programs and resources available to them and their families.
  • Early Identification, Intervention, and Individual & Family Therapy: An Early Intervention/Mental Health Specialist is present during IHWC’s activities to provide one-on-one support to individuals and families requesting mental health services. Individual interventions may include risk reduction counseling, crisis intervention and linkage to needed services. As needed, Indigena clients can also receive crisis intervention, short term mental health services, and Information & Referral. Health Promotores support families with referrals about community resources for mental health and other social services. Clients receiving early identification services can participate in the program for up to 3 months or upon successful linkage to appropriate services.
  • Indigena Health Promotores (Promoters): Promotores play a key role in recruitment and engagement of participants to attend ceremonies and cultural events, workshops, community forums and the Encuentro de Culturas Indigenas de America. Health Promotores, who are often Indigena themselves, are trained and mentored by professional staff within the collaborative. In addition to providing outreach and support services, Promotores co-facilitate workshops and community forums and participate as panelists in the Encuentro de Culturas Indigenas de America.

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Finding Community

Maria, a client of IHWCMaria or “Doña Mari,” as most people at Indigena Health & Wellness Collaborative (IHWC) know her, is a sweet older woman who frequents the center. Maria first learned about Indigena’s workshops when IHWC held one at another agency. Maria was intrigued by the crafts the promotoras showed her and wanted to learn to do them herself. The crafts workshops embodied the cultural traditions of her country of origin. Being close to her culture, Doña Mari felt happier and more empowered. So, she began attending Indigena’s unique workshops.

Since IHWC’s workshops are a cooperative effort of clients and staff, clients are trained to teach the class, along with the staff, the various cultural crafts with which they are familiar. Since textile arts are very popular in Latin America, Maria began teaching others a certain type of stitching. In a community where she can often feel alone, disrespected, and misunderstood, Maria feels a great sense of accomplishment in sharing her skills with others. With the help of all the workshops’ members, Maria has also been able to work on several embroidery pieces that she plans to give to her children as gifts. The workshops have helped supplement her meager earnings. When she’s not making embroideries as gifts, Maria is sometimes able to sell them. The biggest impact of Indigena’s workshops, however, is the opportunity to reunite with her cultural traditions and to share them with others. Maria has found a community at Indigena Health & Wellness where she is both teacher and student, and always welcome.

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