After working toward sustainable healthcare since 1979, board members at the Minnesota International Health Volunteers (MIHV) decided in 2000 to open shop in Minnesota. With more than 200 volunteers in eight different countries MIHV has run immunization campaigns, and helped build community gardens, water and sanitation projects in countries like Thailand, Nicaragua and Tanzania.
While it still runs these and other programs, the decision to largely focus on Minnesota was deliberate. MIHV executive director, Diana DuBois had noticed an increasing number of African immigrants in Minnesota. She wrote the first grant that allowed MIHV to conduct a needs assessment healthcare project in St. Paul. Her findings resulted in MIHV’s first domestic projects in Minnesota in 2002.
DuBois says, “We had unique cultural competence expertise. For over thirty years we had been working in Africa.” MIHV offers long-term health programs which include healthy living advice and preventative care. MIHV’s strength is in its staff and partnerships. Their community health workers are multicultural and multilingual, and are not just limited to the Somali community.
Working with Somali-led community organizations, MIHV is many times a clearing house of information by providing resources to Somalis and sharing data and expertise with other healthcare stakeholders. For eight years, MIHV has partnered with the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota in education programs such as HIV/Aids drama and DVD, elders’ exercise, and nutrition classes.
One such program is the Somali Health Care Initiative, a focus group that utilizes the Somali oral culture. DuBois says,”Through our focus groups we talk to people one on one and find out the community’s health concerns.” Through Somali community health care workers, MIHV conducts health education programs at community centers and conducts home visits.
“Sometimes the biggest barrier is simply access to healthcare facilities so we help them navigate the system,” said DuBois. “It could be something as simple as directing them to specific clinics on their health cards.” MIHV also works with community organizations that will transport their clients to clinic visits.
A more recent partnership is with a Somali youth group, Kajoog, for healthy youth development.
The Somali Women’s Breast Cancer Project, another of MIHV programs, goes out into the community and educates on signs and symptoms of breast cancer. To encourage women to overcome the stigma and fear of visiting doctors, DuBois says that community health workers will take women who are hesitant to the clinic for their first mammogram.