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Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA)

Spanish-Speaking Church Teams Up With Health Department To Spread The Word About Healthy Living


December 16, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA). All rights reserved.

Rosalva Garcia knew little about the importance of getting a pap smear, of getting a mammogram. She had no idea where to get one.

She found out in church.

Like many of the approximately 125 active parishioners at Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal MI on Buena Vista Road in Columbus, Garcia doesn't speak English.

"A lot of the people in the Hispanic community don't get the health information they need," said Carol Hall, the cancer care access coordinator for the West Central Georgia Cancer Coalition, "and some don't trust what they do get."

But hearing from people they know, in their own language, does make a difference, Hall said.

Hall is involved with a special multicultural outreach program in Muscogee County which was recently honored by the Georgia Cancer Awareness and Education campaign for excellence in cancer health communications. The program took honorable mention in the category of activities and materials.

"What we do," said Hall, "is provide health materials in Spanish to the church here for distribution. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in Georgia and as the Hispanic population grows -- it's doing so very fast -- the people need to know about the dangers."

Leading the way for the program is Alma Diaz, a church member from Puerto Rico who has a degree in social work from Auburn University.

"Nothing like this has been done here before," said Diaz. "What we're doing is having classes here at the church where we deliver the information. We want these people to then host smaller classes of their own in their homes. That is the best way to get the word out to the Hispanic community. Neighbors telling neighbors."

They talk about a lot more than cancer. It's everything from asthma to sex education.

Pastor Freddie Diaz and his wife Olga, who has a degree in health education, lead classes.

"Some classes we do together and some we break up into men and women," said the pastor. "For example, the one on prostate cancer was just for men. We talk to young and old. It's important to have the knowledge. We have a strong faith, but prayer alone isn't going to keep you healthy."

"God is the one who gave us the ability to come up with the ways to fight these diseases," said his wife. "The people need to know warning signs then know what to do if they see them. It is important to us because a healthy church is a strong church. We care about these people and these programs are another way of showing that."

Hall hopes this is just the beginning.

"We'd like to move the program into other Hispanic churches," she said, "but not stop there, either. This is a multicultural city. We want to reach all of them for a healthier community."

Speaking with Alma Diaz as an interpreter, Garcia said, "I'm grateful for what I learned." Asked if others would too, she nodded yes and smiled.

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