Culturally Appropriate Coaching: A Personal Testimonial

By: Nina Raffaele Aponte, Certified Health and Wellness Coach

“One of my personal goals is to serve and support the collective health of community-based groups that focus on activism and social change. In July 2022, I seized the opportunity to travel to a remote town in a southern highland region of Chiapas, Mexico, where I had a long-standing contact with the founding mothers.

The coaching field has been criticized as catering its services to the mainstream white public. Seeing very few wellness resources specifically written for Latinas of all skin tones and feeling passionate about using my light-skinned privilege as a biracial person to model education beyond the deep-seated systemic prejudice installed by the colonial mindset, I saw this as a unique opportunity.

This experience proved to be an enriching exchange for both sides, learning about the struggles of Mayan women speaking Tzotzil and Tzeltal with very different cultures, living conditions, and health issues. Before my arrival, the community group I was partnering with, which provides training to women traditional weavers from the highlands of Chiapas, told me that the principal health issues were diabetes, poor nutrition, and heart disease.

Once I arrived and saw firsthand people leaving food out for extended periods, I questioned the safety of consuming the food where I was staying. Then I realized there were many families whose level of poverty had them living without refrigeration and also noticed at the local marketplace, chickens and other meats were sold unrefrigerated.

This inspired me to set a meeting with the health promotion director to inquire about their education on food safety, and the prevention of food poisoning, in the hopes of addressing this topic specifically with the community. This practice turned out to be such a norm that despite sharing about the existence of heat-resistant bacteria, the staff saw food safety as a non issue. Another thing I hadn’t considered was that the community educators spoke their original languages and were not fluent in Spanish, and staff who were bilingual could not be spared from their duties to translate for me. I was unable to deliver diabetes prevention education nor integrated nutrition as prevention education as the health educators came down from the communities infrequently.

Working as a Health and Wellness Coach, and having contact with the Mayan community, enabled me to absorb some perspectives of this indigenous group as I expanded my cultural competency. I learned it’s important to be immersed in a setting and consult with local experts before creating a plan. Perhaps the conversations that I had before my arrival had been polite in the initial agreement. Being appropriate is more than using politically correct terminology and being fair to all people, it’s how we approach diverse groups, being humble and not expecting others to adapt to our postures of privilege.”

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