Today we’d like to introduce you to Amina Sheik Mohamed.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Amina. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I started my career as a cultural liaison/translator at health clinics. While working at a clinic, I saw firsthand the problems that immigrants faced – a couple of the biggest issues were diabetes and hypertension – and the lack of awareness and knowledge of preventative measures that individuals could take.
Through my interest in chronic disease prevention, I found that the root causes were not just about education, there was more to it. I started educating community members about healthy eating and active living. Then I noticed that this was not enough, and even though we were educating community members to eat healthy and live active, there were other barriers that were preventing them from doing so. These barriers included access, affordability, and neighborhood safety, among other social determinants of health. It became clear that we needed to take another step to be involved in the issue from more of a policy angle to work towards a system and environmental change.
This is what made me interested in pursuing a degree in Public Health with a focus on community health with the goal of raising awareness on health issues and instilling better practices to prevent obesity and chronic diseases. My focus on this was from both the side of the patient, but also from the provider side, ensuring doctors were culturally competent when dealing with community members, and getting immigrant/refugee issues raised at a decision and policy-making level so we can address them systemically.
Some examples of the work that I have been involved in include bringing a Farmer’s Market to City Heights to increase access to healthy food. I’ve been involved in the work to increase community corner stores that provide fresh produce and healthy foods. These were important for increasing access for improved food security.
These initiatives were taken with the input and involvement of community members, including youth. We made sure that our work included uplifting community voices – to ensure that our diverse populations have their voices heard and are represented through policy changes and local initiatives. Through the Youth Advisory Council, we also conducted assessments for things like walkability to ensure that the built environment throughout our neighborhoods is conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
These experiences have helped shape my role at the UC San Diego Center for Community Health as Senior Director of Health Equity and Policy and Founding Director of the Refugee Health Unit.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Yes, it has been challenging to bring up voices and issues that are not familiar to everyone at the collaborative tables. It is at times difficult to bring up important subjects and make sure that they are discussed and seen as important issues to tackle, especially when not everyone views these issues as a problem. Not to mention the difficulty of being the only one at the table to bring up the same issues and not having everyone recognize that. It has been difficult, but I love being challenged when it’s about issues that I feel strongly about. The challenge is to bring up issues that are not always seen by all, and I believe we all need to rise to that challenge, which is what motivates me to do the work.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about the UC San Diego Center for Community – what should we know?
I am the Senior Director of Health Equity and Policy and Founding Director of the Refugee Health Unit at the UC San Diego Center for Community Health. The Center for Community Health is a group of professionals with a range of specialties, all working together to transform health and wellness in diverse communities by improving health equity. Our work is done at the community level, through evidence-based health practices. We are recognized as a community resource that is guided by and responsive to community needs.
At the Refugee Health Unit, a lot of our work is done through partnerships with ethnic community-based organizations toward the goal of addressing issues of inequality, improving on all aspects of the social determinants of health, and working to meet identified community health needs. We work on program implementation and evaluation with our partner organizations. The programs and partnerships develop in response to community needs.
I am most proud of engaging youth through the UC San Diego Youth Advisory Council as a vehicle through which young leaders can play a role in changing social and environmental factors that impact health. Through this program, we have seen young adults research and work on issues that they are passionate about, and then get the chance to bring these issues to the table themselves at local government meetings. These types of programs encourage youth to take part and be knowledgeable contributors to policy and decision making.
We strive to meet the needs of San Diego’s diverse populations by working with community members to increase representation and access to equal opportunities for all. San Diego has one of the largest refugee populations in the United States, which is another reason I believe our work to be so important. These populations need to be represented if we are going to get closer to achieving health equity within our communities. Our close partnerships within the community is what sets us apart from others.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I couldn’t have done this work without the support of the UC San Diego leadership, amazing partners, community members, funders, mentors, teammates and my family. They all played a big role in my success and the success of my work.