Cultural Wellness Center leverages wisdom and assets of Elders and Navigators to support parents and students in transitioning to at-home learning

 Cultural Wellness Center

Specializing in the development and production of cultural curriculum and knowledge, the Cultural Wellness Center (CWC) has been working with individuals, families, communities, academic institutions, government agencies, philanthropists, and other nonprofit organizations since 1996 to restore and increase cultural knowledge in the Twin Cities. Beginning in two culturally diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis, CWC facilitated many dialogues and listened to the stories that people shared. Through this, they learned that when people are stripped of their culture, they are also disconnected from generations of beliefs, norms, values, customs, principles and generational histories. Recognizing that culture is a resource for surviving, sustaining and building, CWC committed to organizing and leading research in cultural knowledge and norms that would allow people to unite, collaborate and build a sense of belonging. Also recognizing that loss of culture and loss of community give rise to disparities in people’s capacity for self-development, they worked in community to create a vision beyond racism, oppression, enslavement and colonialism so that people could heal themselves and build from within. Their philosophy is that when people heal themselves, they can then build their own capacities to address, resolve, and prevent many of the same problems that, in the past, had stood in their way.

Building on these belief systems, CWC worked with parents in St. Paul to address multi-generational poverty, education opportunity gaps, and other factors influencing a child's academic outcomes. They recognized that within the family, the parent is the first teacher, the home is the first classroom, and the community is the first connection to the world. With this foundation, they worked with the parents to create a curriculum that would help restore cultural knowledge and create better outcomes for young people. CWC later partnered with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood/Wilder Foundation to incorporate the curriculum into four Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood schools. The new program allowed for the Navigators, who’d helped to harvest life lessons from survivors, to be in the schools as a support to children and families in developing kinship networks and improving parent-educator communication. They also began offering parent classes and workshops with emphases on cultural and personal growth, academics, and advocacy.

During this highly uncertain time of COVID-19, the Cultural Wellness Center is a valuable resource to many individuals and families, especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color who experience a disproportionate impact from COVID-19. Parents are struggling with schools being closed and children at home. They are having technology challenges for distance learning. Many are working “essential” jobs and are not able to work from home and be with their children.  Others struggle with “who” they are in the midst of this. CWC has leveraged the wisdom and assets of its Elders, who acknowledge their obligation to help others carry knowledge and wisdom into the future. Elders are offering help to anyone in need of guidance, advice, or assurance, and have been checking in with parents via phone to encourage tutoring for their students. Navigators are making follow-up calls to address other needs parents may have, as well as teaching online drum, drum-making and dance classes to students at home. Recognizing that “it takes a village” and looking to those who have lived through hard times comes much-needed reassurance that this is not permanent, that we are resilient, and in working together, we will prevail.

Centro Tyrone Guzman responds innovatively in keeping children engaged and learning while helping parents become at-home educators

Centro Tyrone Guzman is the oldest and largest multi-service Latine organization based in Minneapolis, serving more than 4,000 individuals from infants to elders each year. Since 1974, they have been using family-centered, culturally responsive services to address health and education disparities that help empower Latines to change systems and mindsets and build community strength.

To support the academic and social development of Latine children, Centro Tyrone Guzman provides a high-quality, dual-language Montessori learning environment for children ages 33 months through 6 years. Siembra Montessori supports children as they explore the world, grow and learn in both English and Spanish in a year-round, culturally responsive Montessori environment.

During this COVID-19 crisis, Siembra’s teachers and staff have responded in a variety of innovative ways to keep the children engaged and learning while helping families become at-home educators. Instead of simply providing one-on-one distance learning, Siembra has taken a more holistic approach that engages the family and community. They have been sending out weekly learning packets with science experiments, gardening lessons, nutrition ideas and recipes, along with practical life learning in self-care and care of the environment. Children can utilize large and fine motor skills while embracing the notion of washing their hands, preparing a snack, washing fruit and sharing it with all members of the family. They are using their tactile senses while working with colors and numbers by helping with table setting, counting utensils, pouring beverages, and sorting the family’s laundry by color and helping fold it. Children have also been germinating lentils and growing lettuce from the base, making dishes from the produce they’ve grown, and sharing videos of their results with their teachers.

Siembra is also reaching out to elders from the Centro community who are isolated or in senior housing and can’t come out to socialize. In demonstrating intergenerational caring and sharing, the children decided to create cards, sending best wishes and then taking a photo of the card and sending it to elders via text as a way to say, “hello.”

In spite of the many challenges and barriers this community is facing at this time, teachers and staff at Siembra are inspired again and again by the care and support that families show for each other, and their strength and resiliency as a community.

 Raising the Village uses its currents strengths to respond proactively to COVID-19

Raising The Village

Operating in Southwestern Uganda since 2012, Raising The Village (RTV) has partnered with hundreds of last-mile rural communities to create opportunities that help ultra-poor households become economically self-sufficient.

During the 2019 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, RTV developed a “Prevent & Prepare” emergency protocol to support communities and district government through coordination and communication support. With the onset of COVID-19, RTV was assigned to the District Health Taskforce in its partner districts to utilize the same emergency protocol in helping coordinate activities, provide important information updates, and deliver daily living support and virtual health services for agriculture and livestock.

When the government placed Uganda in a full lockdown, RTV closed all its offices and began operating its emergency response protocol remotely. They recognized that while Uganda has done an excellent job tracking and containing the spread of COVID-19 to this point, its neighbors have not been as successful. Hence, they are preparing for significant virus spread within the country in the next few weeks and are focused on WASH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) standards and making sure that villages have handwashing stations, water and soap.

Following Uganda’s lockdown, food prices have doubled, and since Uganda is a landlocked country, it will take time before prices go back down. In response, RTV is exploring ways to ensure that the most vulnerable households can access food and supplies, and not consume seasonal crops before maturity. Through its VSLA (Village Savings and Loan Association) financing program, they are rolling out very low-interest loans to provide funds that directly supplement village households in bridging the gap until harvest season. They also plan to build on this initiative by issuing passbooks to families so they can track their financial credits/debits and savings and build a credit history during this time.

Having these programs already in place and a team equipped to work remotely, and having partnerships with other organizations already established, RTV can use its current strengths to respond proactively. And because they are now considered an essential service, they have access to government communications and programs. For Raising The Village, this is what they do every day; however, for those watching from afar, it is inspiring, especially during times like these.

“There’s no limit to what we can accomplish when we work together.”