The National Resource Center (NRC) supports state and local health departments and other entities in their work to reach and engage with disproportionately impacted refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) communities. This past year, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Asian Media Access (AMA) partnered to pilot a three-month COVID-19 prevention project in the Somali and Hmong youth community. The objective of the project was to empower youth with digital communication skills to produce communication messaging in their heritage languages and increase uptake of vaccination in African and Asian immigrant communities. The materials developed by youth in the pilot program were shared out via social media and reached more than 2,000 people from their respective communities.
When youths understand their community context, they can use their diverse languages and multi-media skills to develop linguistically and culturally appropriate health messages,’’ said Mrs. Ange Hwang, AMA Executive Director.
AMA runs a cultural broker program which leverages existing youth networks to engage youth and provide them with digital media skills to create culturally relevant community messages for their peers. The program spans between 10 to 13 weeks and encompasses an orientation, hands-on training, and mentorship of youth in developing their designs in both English and heritage languages.
‘’It provides an opportunity for youth to be empowered with knowledge and skills, share back with their communities, whilst also earning a small stipend towards their work,’’ stated Hwang.
The program usually supports 200-500 youth and provides the opportunity to learn multimedia skills, share critical information, and be advocates of change in their cultural community.
With the support of NRC-RIM funds, the trained youth created their own comic pages and postcards with key messages in Hmong and Somali on COVID-19 precautions and testing, the importance of vaccinations, and decreasing vaccination hesitancy. Chia Thao, a student from University of Minnesota, confirmed how she gained valuable skills in digital message design and communication to help deliver information to the Hmong community in areas with high hesitancy to vaccinations. She emphasized how one’s knowledge of culture is an “asset to mobilize the community for vaccination.’’ Often the diversity of languages spoken by RIM communities result in challenges in accessing culturally relevant information regarding the pandemic. Understanding a community’s culture and language helps in packaging information in a way that is appropriate and accepted by the community.
The cultural brokers program provides a safe space for youth to connect and discuss COVID-19 vaccination. This program hosted by AMA is also holistic in nature and creates space for dialogue regarding other social and mental health issues affecting youth. Through new art and animation techniques, members of the cohort have produced videos to express their anxieties and thoughts on different mental health topics such as bullying and relationship building.
AMA has successfully developed a community space for youth to become advocates and health educators, as well as connect with and lean on other youth to navigate different mental health and social issues. There have been many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but through this cultural broker program, youth in the community are now empowered with the knowledge and skills to better serve their communities and themselves.