Rosa is the Assistant Director of the Centro Comunitario Juan Diego, a community health clinic on the south side of Chicago. The Centro serviced 19,000 people last year, mostly low-income Latino immigrants, although it is run by an all-volunteer staff.
The Centro's main initiative is the Health Promoters/Promotes de Salud program, which trains women to become community health educators. The women make home visits and educate parents on commonsense measure to reduce their children's asthma attacks-like getting rid of furry pets, carpets, cleaning very carefully. The promoters also "reach out to the community about the environmental factors on their health. Things like telling people not to keep an eye on the kids with asthma on days when it is very dry, and they don't water down the coal ash. The kids can't breathe that air."
Rosa says of the program "We are a very poor community, and it's really sad because we're always trying to make sure our bills are paid, and food is on the table, and thinking about pollution in the air ends up last on the list. People have other priorities, and it's difficult to get people to see the connections. Because South Chicago used to have so many steel refineries, and most people just think of this neighborhood as a place for industry, and no one really questions when a new polluter comes in. And the big companies who have power take advantage of that."
Rosa is working hard "trying to show people the connections, and we're trying to create leaders so people can advocate for themselves and their families."
Meanwhile, Rosa is struggling to help her own child, 5-year old Yousef Abdallah, control his severe asthma.
"It's so hard," Rosa says, "before this, I've never been close or had anybody in my family who had asthma, but now I realized how difficult it is to control it, and make sure he takes medicine and stays well. I've had to take him to the Emergency Room and it's really scary."
Rosa gives Yousef two puffs of medicine every morning, and if he plays at the park or is very active, she has to give him more emergency medicine to stop him from having a severe asthma attack. "It's really sad, because he just loves sports," she says, "when he was little he didn't watch cartoons, he watched college basketball and pro baseball, ESPN."
"At least we're lucky because we can control his asthma," Rosa says, "because we have SCHIP health insurance, so he's able to get the medications, and keep him healthy."
Despite her volunteer work with the Centro and deep commitment to the community, Rosa says she would move to a less-polluted neighborhood, if she had the means. "If I could get him out of here, I would. Even though I've invested 43 years of my life in this neighborhood, I've grown up in this neighborhood, I would make that sacrifice, because I really worry about him. I think most parents would, when they see their child going through that."