BOSP reinstates Oaxacan Community Health Program

The Bing Overseas Studies Program has reinstated its Community Health Program in Oaxaca, Mexico, this upcoming summer after a three-year absence.

The program, which is also sponsored by the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and the School of Medicine’s Office of Community Health, focuses on the health of Oaxacan communities on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border.

“Students will get an understanding of community health in Oaxaca and of the experience in health and healthcare issues for the growing number of migrants from Mexico, creating a binational link where students will understand the root population they are serving here in the U.S.,” said Ann Banchoff ’87, co-director of the program and director of educational programs at the Office of Community Health.

The program was put on hold in 2010 after the U.S. government issued a travel warning for all of Mexico, as a result of a University policy precluding students from travelling on University programs to places subject to a travel warning.

Gabriel Garcia, professor of medicine and the program’s co-director, downplayed the risks of a program situated in Oaxaca, for which the travel warning was lifted in February 2012.

Michelle Neely ’11 participated in the Oaxaca program the year before it was shelved. She described the program as a defining moment in her academic experience at Stanford and in shaping her future career.

“Forging relationships with Ann Banchoff and Dr. Garcia impassioned me about advocating for those who are underserved back in America,” Neely said. “It solidified my desire to be a doctor.”

Banchoff and Garcia plan to accept 15 students into the program, encouraging all applicants with an interest in public health but emphasizing the value of Spanish language proficiency.

“We are so intertwined with the Mexican state and people…it is almost a requirement to be effective in work to speak Spanish and to understand the population and community,” Banchoff said.

The deadline to apply is Feb. 17, and students will be selected before the start of the spring quarter. Selected students will participate in Med 259: Oaxacan Health on Both Sides of the Border during spring quarter, followed by four weeks of fieldwork in Oaxaca during the summer with Banchoff and Garcia.

In addition to shadowing medics in various medical clinics and hospitals, the program provides opportunities for immersion in Oaxacan culture. Students will participate in homestays, language and culture classes and interact with community and local non-governmental organizations.

“Soak it up, keep your eyes open and your heart open, because it is such an invaluable and rich experience culturally, medically and personally,” Neely said.

Garcia framed the program as relevant to Stanford students by means of the sister-city relationship between Palo Alto and Oaxaca and through the transfer of Oaxacans’ health concerns to California through immigration.

“Oaxaca is not only the source of migrants to the service industry and farms to this country, but it is also the source of migrants to the service industry and farms throughout Mexico,” Garcia said. “We were very interested in being able to study health from both the sending and receiving community.”

Upon return to the United States, the program encourages students to continue working to improve healthcare conditions for Oaxacan communities in Northern California.

“We encourage and facilitate it,” Banchoff said. “Many [past participants] participate in our Community Health Advocacy Program, through which students work in local clinics and other service agencies providing service to migrants and immigrant communities.”

While the program is funded only through 2014, both Banchoff and Garcia are optimistic that the funding will continue as long as there is no travel warning.

“Through long-term partnerships, Stanford and this program can make a lasting contribution. It just takes a long-term commitment in order to do that,” Banchoff said. “You can’t just show up and expect to make a difference.”

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