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For migrant workers, community cooperation builds on individual strengths
Date:9/7/2010

MADISON Fostering community cooperation, building on skills and strengths, and getting strangers to work together -- these are fundamentals of community development.

Now, a pilot study of six families living in a farm town in New Mexico suggests that small infusions of cash could fuel such cooperation and produce overlapping benefits.

The study grew from the idea that poor migrant workers have assets as well as significant health-care needs, says Alfonso Morales, a New Mexico native and assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "I had so many relatives with health care needs; my godmother died in Dallas due to the lack of good care, so health care access has always been interesting to me: How do organizations promote or limit access to health care?"

The study, published in Southern Rural Sociology in 2009 and profiled this summer in the journal Progressive Planning, was performed in Anthony, in southeast New Mexico, where the majority Hispanic population includes many migrant workers with high rates of obesity and diabetes. Poverty and isolation severely limited access to health care.

Working through a local health advocacy agency, Morales built a framework that encouraged families to help each other with work that could contribute to health, loosely defined, by repairing screens, doing child care, or providing transportation.

In return for each hour of work, an individual earned "social currency" that could be used for health-related expenditures. "These were all sorts of things that might otherwise not get done, but would contribute in direct or indirect ways to well-being," says Morales. "For example, putting screens on windows limits the exposure to insects and disease, and repairing windows lowers utility bills."

Every two weeks, the families, organized into a club called "Nuevos Amigos" (New Friends), met to have dinner and apportion the ca
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Contact: Alfonso Morales
morales1@wisc.edu
608-263-4848
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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