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Cultural Influencers in the Community: Recognizing Marshallese Women in Northwest Arkansas

04.01.2022Blog

Community Clinic (CC) & Marshallese Educational Initiative (MEI) Team

The national PRAPARE Team is rounding out Women’s History Month by interviewing and recognizing the role of some cultural influencers who are engaging and educating Marshallese women about whole health in order for them to excel as nurturers within their family and community in Northwest Arkansas. This blog features the female collective and community voices of Amanda Echegoyen, Chief Operating Officer and Mary Samuel, Eligibility Specialist at the Community Clinic (CC) in Northwest Arkansas as well as Carlnis Jerry, Program Director and Trina J. Marty, Women’s Program Coordinator at the Marshallese Educational Initiative (MEI).  All of these women, with the exception of Amanda, identify as Marshallese and have strong ties and cultural roots to the Marshall Islands, an archipelago in the North Pacific.  

Check out our interview and exchange below!

Albert Ayson Jr. (National PRAPARE Team):  From February to August 2021, I had the pleasure of working alongside you ladies as you embarked on a rapid-cycle design sprint process to create a shared vision and set priority outcomes between CC and MEI.  As health and social service providers in Northwest Arkansas, your respective organizations already had expertise in health care and education, so your design challenge was to create a cross-sector partnership that could help the community navigate the complex health care system.  As your facilitator and coach, I also walked you through a human-centered design thinking process, which involved five key steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.  As a result, your fledgling partnership formed and strengthened over the course of 6 months, thanks to our virtual design sprint sessions.  During the design sprint sessions, you decided to focus your partnership efforts on women’s health, in particular, education and empowerment of Marshallese women.  Now that it has been over six months since the August 2021 Design Sprint Storytelling & Community Celebration, I’m curious to know what you all have been up to. I’ll start with the Community Clinic team and we’ll go from there!

Amanda and Mary, in light of your partnership work to improve the health and well-being of the Marshallese women in Springdale and Northwest Arkansas (NWA) what brought you to the health center movement? 

Amanda Echegoyen

Amanda Echegoyen (Community Clinic): I am from a small town in Arkansas where my father is a physician.  I saw him provide quality care for rural communities in my state, and he also took me on several medical mission trips to Latin America.  I loved the relationships that I witnessed and built through watching my dad practice medicine.  As I defined my career goals, I realized that the community health center movement would give me the chance to use my own skills and abilities to continue building relationships and serving the diverse community in my state by increasing access to quality, affordable health care.

Mary Samuel

 Mary Samuel (Community Clinic): I knew there was an immense need and help was limited for the Marshallese community. I wanted to be able to do my part and help by providing in-language support. Growing up in NWA, I was able to see firsthand how women and men sometimes didn’t have adequate help in their language. When COVID-19 hit, this need was even more obvious. The Marshallese community was disproportionately affected due to COVID-19 and I saw an opportunity to help as a COVID Navigator at the Community Clinic. From there, I continued growing and am now the Medicaid Eligibility Specialist and help with enrollment for my community. 

Albert Ayson Jr. (National PRAPARE Team): That’s amazing, Amanda and Mary. Thanks for your commitment and service to the community health center movement. We know that health centers continue to be frontline providers during this COVID-19 pandemic, especially for diverse populations with culture and language access needs.  How about for you, Carlnis and Trina, what brought you both to serve the Marshallese community and women through your line of work at MEI?

Carlnis Jerry

Carlnis Jerry (Marshallese Educational Initiative): I think it is because when I started working with my family I saw that more women work than men. They didn’t have time to take care of themselves. They didn’t think twice of taking more responsibility because that was expected from us. Growing up we were the nurturer, the decision maker, we are the peacemaker, etc. So there were a lot of expectations from us women. So we just take it all and then we move here and that adds more responsibility and worries. Like we have to worry about bills, rent, language barriers. I mean everything comes at you and you don’t know what to do. So when I was given a job that I can at least address these and be able to help the women navigate it, connect them to resources and at the same time educate each other and encourage them.

Trina Marty

Trina J. Marty (Marshallese Educational Initiative): Moving here to Springdale was one of the biggest blessings for me. I grew up in Springfield, Missouri and the Marshallese Community there was all I was familiar with and it was all family. Springdale is so diverse and moving here changed my perspective about a lot of things, especially our culture. Growing up, I didn’t have much education about our culture, let alone our home back in the Islands itself. I’ve always heard that Springdale is literally the second Marshall Islands. I’ve always wanted to be very active in the community and MEI has given me that opportunity to do so. It has enriched my life, helped me familiarize myself with our beautiful community, and connected me in ways to ideas and people. There are many topics that are taboo in our culture and it affects us women til this day. I have grown to be familiar with those challenges our community struggles with and want to strive for change! These attributes have naturally inspired me to become a voice to the voiceless and a beacon of hope to the hopeless. 

Albert Ayson Jr. (National PRAPARE Team): Thank you, Carlnis and Trina. The educational resources and support services you provide to Marshallese women is inspiring and impactful. Speaking of inspiration, where do you ladies get your inspiration from? 

  • Amanda Echegoyen (Community Clinic): I am inspired by individuals who show grit – passion and perseverance over time, as defined by Angela Duckworth.  I see examples of individuals who demonstrate grit every day – from professionals in various fields perfecting their craft, to everyday people striving to achieve a better future for themselves and their families.  Seeing one’s passion and relentless pursuit towards a goal inspires me to do the same.
  • Mary Samuel (Community Clinic): I was inspired by seeing how my parents struggled with a language barrier. I don’t want anyone to experience what my parents went through. 
  • Carlnis Jerry (Marshallese Educational Initiative): My grandparents were always my inspiration. They taught me about life. They taught me about forgiveness and how to respect people’s opinions. What I mean is that everyone has their own beliefs in whatever they do or say. Don’t judge, but have empathy because everyone has a story. Everyone chooses their own path so be kind to each other.
  • Trina J. Marty (Marshallese Educational Initiative):  The people of the Marshall Islands inspired me and still continue to do so every day. The life they are living there makes me want to do more here. We may have a lot more opportunities out here in the States, but seeing, reading and listening to all that the people of our Islands are doing and how passionate they are about change is very moving. They uplift and encourage each other and are committed to a cause that they love. I learn every day about who I am and where my roots are. 

Albert Ayson Jr. (National PRAPARE Team): Passionate individuals…persevering parents…empathetic grandparents…Marshallese people…I love all of your responses and it’s clear you all have great sources of inspiration.  One thing I’ve learned from my sources of inspiration (e.g. mentors, elders, and ancestors) is that you can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself.  Amanda and Carlnis, you both supervise and oversee staff wellness, especially knowing that your own staff are caring for patients and the community at-large.  How do you take care of yourself and your teams?

  • Amanda Echegoyen (Community Clinic): The health care industry has been a difficult one over the past two years, so I think it’s important to keep our team inspired and connected to our values and purpose.  I like to send cards and messages to staff to recognize actions they have taken that demonstrated a core value or facilitated an excellent patient experience. It’s a small, but sincere gesture to show my deep appreciation. To take care of myself, I like to get out and run, bike, and hike in the beautiful Arkansas outdoors.
  • Carlnis Jerry (Marshallese Educational Initiative):  When you work with a lot of different ethnicities and personalities, that can be so stressful. So I tell them and make sure that they know that their health, mental health and opinions matter most with me. I think it is very important for my team to know that because I want them to feel supported and know that I value them. I think if you need to empower, encourage, and inspire your community…you need to do the same for your team so they can transpire that to each and every one they meet or help.  We also have lunch or dinner with each other randomly because I think even if I put up all these encouraging words here and there, sometimes we need to talk about nothing. Also, I make sure they have some time alone when they need it. Make sure they eat because when you’re busy you forget to eat.

Albert Ayson Jr. (National PRAPARE Team): I appreciate your leadership styles, Amanda and Carlnis. It reminds me of servant leadership and how caring for and serving others are integral to achieving common and collective goals of a team. As a supervisor, I tend to show love and appreciation through personal check-ins and food! I mean food is always a way to my heart and I see that in my Filipino parents and just growing up in an immigrant household. Also, I feel like one’s culture and family traditions can serve as humble reminders of how to care for one another, including one’s community. In that respect, I want to close us out with one more question.  In your recent efforts and partnership to address the health and social needs of Marshallese women in Northwest Arkansas, what have been some surprising gems you’ve uncovered and that you’d like to share?

  • Amanda Echegoyen (Community Clinic): Without a doubt the most rewarding gem I’ve uncovered is the personal relationships with my teammates – Carlnis, Mary, and Trina. These women are determined and sincere, and they are honest with me about how the Community Clinic can continue to best serve Marshallese women.  I have had the privilege of hearing about their family’s experiences living in the Marshall Islands and the Islander experience in the US.  These relationships have helped Community Clinic craft outreach and service offerings in a culturally sensitive manner, such as offering after-hours women’s health clinics, leveraging Facebook Live for health-related information, and adding a Marshallese language option on our phone menu! 
  • Mary Samuel (Community Clinic):One thing that really stood out to me was seeing the difference in generations. It’s interesting to know how the older generation thinks compared to how the younger generation thinks. 
  • Carlnis Jerry (Marshallese Educational Initiative): How much we are different from how we address health. What I mean by that is, for my generation, when we say health and well-being, it is actually staying healthy, watching what we eat, exercising, visiting friends and telling stories for a long time. For the women that were raised and born here is quite different. 
  • Trina J. Marty (Marshallese Educational Initiative): The different perspectives between the two generations is what makes it hard at times for us to find a common understanding about a lot of things that affect us. But, with the help of others in the Community, like Amanda and Mary— a lot has improved and helped our Marshallese Community. Teamwork with others has not only brought us closer as a community, but also as a State. 

Albert Ayson Jr. (National PRAPARE Team): I’m always inspired and in awe of your passion and motivations, ladies! So thank you for this opportunity. It’s always a pleasure connecting with you and catching up. For our readers, if you’d like to learn more about the cross-sector work of this all-star female team, please listen to their summer 2021 podcast, whereby Amanda, Carlnis, Mary, and Trina talk about their collaborative partnership efforts to build a cultural understanding and to better meet the needs of Marshallese women.  

The above podcast and the associated design sprint program were facilitated with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Albert Ayson, Jr.

Authors: Albert Ayson, Jr., Amanda Echegoyen, Carlnis Jerry, Mary Samuel, and Trina Marty

Questions? Email the PRAPARE Team