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El Arte de Sobrevivir: Embedding support for survivors in the community with the multi-tiered Promotor(a) de Salud model

El Arte de Sobrevivir (The Art of Surviving) is a support group program that uses the multi-tiered Promotor(a) de Salud model to provide support to low-income, Hispanic, Spanish-speaking survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and/or stalking. This model employs a Promotora (also known as a Community Health Worker) who is a member of the community served: those living in colonias in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Colonias are unincorporated neighborhoods developed outside of city limits that lack city services such as transportation, utilities and road signs. As part of the multi-tiered approach, the program also recruits líderes, or community leaders, who are independently contracted to fully embed the program into the culture of the colonia in which they live.

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Sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking are complex and difficult to combat anywhere, but special challenges exist within the area served by the El Arte de Sobrevivir program. For example, residents of resource-poor colonias often lack transportation to reach counseling services, access to information about available services and time to access these services. Widespread misconceptions exist about what “counts” as sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, which prevents many survivors from identifying as such. Further, even if a survivor does wish to seek help, many face a precarious immigration environment.

At MHP Salud, Promotor(a) programs are built around the concept that communities already possess the ability to develop a culture of health, and a Promotor(a)’s job is to cultivate that ability. As members of the community they serve, Promotores(as) are uniquely equipped to address the often hidden and taboo subjects of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women funded MHP Salud to run a program that would strengthen supportive networks within colonias in order to better identify and prevent cases of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking through the use of support groups led by Promotora Noelia Serrano.

Serrano established support groups across the two counties by networking with schools, community resource centers, local police stations, local women’s shelters and churches. During the eight two-hour sessions that comprise the program, participants receive education from Serrano, form supportive networks with one another and engage in arts and craft projects to open space for discussion and healing. This year alone, in more than 40 colonias, the El Arte program led 423 individuals through 45 group sessions.

In order to maintain these new-found community bonds, once the sessions were completed, Serrano identified a member of the support group to serve as an ongoing líder.

“The outspoken participants were the ones I could see as leading the group forward,” said Serrano.

This individual receive 40 hours of training from Mujeres Unidas (Women Together), a local group that provides services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the líderes continue the classes on an informal basis as independent contractors. These líderes sustainably embedded the support groups in colonias across the two-county region, and they received education and training about MHP Salud’s wider referral network. If a group participant needed to enroll in assistance for another health-related problem, they could refer them to the appropriate place.

“We could not have done the job without the líderes,” said El Arte Program Director Moises Arjona. “They are really an extension of the Promotora to further our program’s outreach.”

Though the program period has ended for El Arte, at least two of the support groups are still meeting on a monthly basis. Líderes invite representatives from other community agencies to attend the ongoing sessions to educate participants about available community resources.

“It feels like I did a good job to know that I initiated the groups, but that the participants continue getting together,” said Serrano.

As part of the program, MHP Salud developed a Facilitator’s Guide that can be used by anyone interested in replicating the success of this program.  The English– and Spanish-language versions of this resource can be downloaded at no cost from MHP Salud’s Resource Portfolio.