Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 18, 2002
Health co-op makes life easier for immigrant women
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Life can be difficult for new immigrants, especially for those that come from non-English-speaking countries. They know few people, don’t speak the language and don’t know the system. For most of them trying to figure out the health care, educational and legal systems can be a harrowing experience.
But thanks to a group of 16 women called the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative, newcomers now have it easier.
As their name implies, these women act as brokers for immigrant and refugee families to help them access services. The co-op has now 16 women on board who work with families in the Chinese, Vietnamese, South Asian, Filipino, Arabic and Spanish communities.
Social worker and community developer Yvonne Chiu, one of the founding members of the Brokers Co-op, spoke about the organization at Expressionz Café Feb. 7. Some 20 people attended the café’s lunch hour talk, organized by the Community Networks Group.
Chiu said the co-op emerged out of a public health effort in the early 1990s to enhance maternal and infant health in immigrant and refugee communities.
She was hired in 1991 by the Edmonton Board of Health after health officials realized that few immigrants and refugees were attending pre-natal classes.
Chiu found language and cultural barriers as well as traditional health practices prevented many immigrant families from using the health system. She also found that “many, many of the families we come into contact with are struggling with social and economic isolation.
“I think I can dare to say that over 50 per cent of the families we’ve worked with over the years are under the poverty line. And that means they have limited access to a variety of resources, not just the health care system.”
That radically changed the role of the co-op. Although pre-natal education continued to be the entry point for families, co-op members more and more found themselves playing a brokering role for all kinds of resources, including housing as well as economic and social issues.
“And so our work is really more than health education,” Chiu stressed.
With the help of the brokers, some women dealing with abusive husbands have been able to get restraining orders and custody of their children. Others have been able to take ESL classes.
Many workers put in a lot of extra hours, for which they are not paid, to provide counselling, translation or just personal support.
Each year, more than 10 per cent of the families with newborn babies in Edmonton receive care and support from the multicultural health brokers.
Because of the brokers’ involvement, immigrant families have experienced greater access to health and other essential services, Chiu said. The brokers’ intervention has also helped immigrant families become less isolated and more skillful parents.
While the co-op is run more like a collective than a traditional business, with principles of social justice and democracy at its core, it has established contractual relationships with the Community Health Services of the Capital Health Authority and the Northeast Community Health Centre, which has a heavy concentration of Arabic families.
In addition, the multicultural health workers do community development and policy research with funding from several federal and provincial organizations.
Since 1995, the brokers have helped around 4,000 Edmonton families deal issues of pregnancy, children’s health, mental health, economic and social issues.
To contact the co-operative, call Yvonne Chiu at 430-6253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.