MRNY’s peer-to-peer health promoters program, Promotoras, leverages the leadership and social networks of our members in order to reach and educate a broad spectrum of community members, connecting them to our health access, healthy living, and legal support services.
Cancer survivor Blanca Palomeque became a MRNY Promotora to share her extensive expertise of navigating the healthcare and insurance systems with other community members.
MRNY helps immigrant families overcome the numerous hurdles that challenge their ability to live healthy. Incredibly long work hours and low wages impede the ability of parents’ to purchase healthy food or engage in recreational activities with their children. Meanwhile, limited English proficiency and lack of knowledge in navigating New York’s health system can make it exceedingly difficult to access medical benefits and services for the family.
Blanca Palomeque, an immigrant from Ecuador, has felt this struggle firsthand and sees it throughout her community in Sunnyside, Queens. Blanca worked for many years as a housecleaner where she was made to work with highly toxic chemicals for long hours.
Then, four years ago, Blanca was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Where health had never been a top priority for her and her family, suddenly healthy living and access to medical care became desperately important.
For three years Blanca battled with cancer, having to quit working and spending months in the hospital, while MRNY helped her navigate the challenges of the health insurance system. “Throughout my struggle,” she says, “I kept my faith and worked on staying positive.”
When her cancer finally went into remission, Blanca felt a new surge of purpose in her life. “God has given me a second opportunity,” she says. “This is my mission, to help everybody.”
Now, as a promotora with MRNY’s Health Team, Blanca hits the streets every day to spread the word to adults and young people. In the park, at community events, and in hospital waiting rooms, you can find Blanca and her fellow promotoras helping people to access food stamps and farmers markets, referring them to MRNY’s health insurance enrollment program, giving practical nutrition advise, and teaching practical tips on how to treat and avoid our communities’ most pressing health problems.
“When you don’t have a lot of time or money, nutrition is the last problem you worry about, so I help teach people what foods are good and how to access them for cheap,” she says.
After attending MRNY’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA )-certified trainings on chemical safety, Blanca has returned to work for a cleaning company part-time, but she is now an advocate for safe working conditions.
“Exposure to chemicals, like the ones I used to work with, can contribute to cancer but I convinced my old employer and my new one to start using environmentally safe chemicals. I want to make sure that no other workers have to go through what I went through and that everyone in my community can live, eat, and work healthy.”