Community navigators provide key access
Denver’s refugee population included new arrivals from Syria, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Tanzania and elsewhere. None were fluent in English and few could read or write at all. They were busy settling their families and adapting to American culture.
Community navigators provided key access and connection.
Denver’s International Rescue Committee connected us with women who were already active and trusted within the community. Fluent Somali, Arabic and English speakers, these women visited local mosques, refugee centers and apartment complexes to engage with WIC families and collect their stories.
The navigators identified key knowledge gaps, like how WIC benefits could be used to buy different sized milk cartons and a complete lack of awareness of a WIC shopper app. Navigator input informed educational videos aimed at helping families navigate grocery stores, find approved food items and make recipes their kids would eat.
Cultural nuances lead to unique barriers
Community navigators were also key in helping us identify cultural nuances to overcome barriers unique to the recent arrivals. For example, in a community with limited written and computer literacy – including among the navigators – WhatsApp proved essential for sharing videos and engaging participants. Navigators built trust through home visits and community connections to overcome challenges such as reluctance to be recorded and need for husbands’ permission to participate.
Working with the navigators took time, patience and money, but we were rewarded with stories and examples that created a deeper understanding of the community’s needs and challenges. This helped us maximize the effectiveness of our educational materials.
Investigating “why” leads to solutions
Although the new arrivals in our study seemed similar at first glance, key differences influenced their experience of shopping for and eating WIC-approved foods. For example, some families took a winding journey to the United States that included long stays in refugee camps. Sometimes this sparked an aversion to peanut butter, a food they associated with fattening up starving children. To address this concern, we created a video explaining that shoppers could spend their WIC peanut butter allowance on beans instead.
After we created and revised the educational videos, community navigators helped us evaluate their effectiveness with a new group of refugee families.
The results? The videos improved families’ understanding and usage of their WIC benefits and the WIC shopper app. “I wish I could give 10 stars,” one respondent said. “I learned so much.”
“Community navigators were critical to the success of the WIC refugee video project,” said Christina Miller, senior manager of Share Our Strength. “Their insights led to positive relationships in communities and ultimately videos that were found to be valuable and supportive to the WIC Refugee community.”
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