Bringing healthcare home

Snapchat-2107919295 (2)Freshman year got off to a rough start for Andrea Camacho, now a junior studying Health and Human Performance at Eastern Oregon University.

The first year away from her island home in Saipan was full of difficult transitions.

“I had never been away from island life, and the transition to American living was overwhelming,” Camacho said. “I come from a very low-income home — poverty-stricken, really.”

Culture shock soon led to depression, but staff from TRIO Student Support Services, the EOU Counseling Center and the Multicultural Center reached out and made sure Camacho had the resources she needed to be successful.

Since then, she’s become dedicated to developing public health systems in her own community.

“Mental health isn’t really talked about in the islands,” Camacho said. “I had never had access to counseling before, but then I realized how important all the aspects of health — mental, spiritual and physical all work together.”

In 2018 she received a grant from the United Health Foundation’s (UHF) Asian Pacific Islanders Fund that will help finance the rest of her bachelor’s degree. Scholarship recipients from across the country were invited to attend the annual UHF Diverse Scholars Forum.

Camacho represented EOU at the three-day conference last spring in Washington, D.C., where she discussed a range of contemporary healthcare issues with undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. Scholars met with policymakers and thought leaders, networked with peers and guest speakers, and shared their own ideas and experiences.

“The conference taught me the importance of staying compassionate and humble while keeping your confidence,” Camacho said.

With a minor in psychology, Camacho said she hopes to build a career in public health policy.

“I want to go back to my island and help my people,” she said. “We need to combat obesity, preventable diseases, and addiction, and to provide safe spaces for youth that are encountering mental health issues.”

She’s considering starting a nonprofit that would provide holistic health for indigenous people, such as nutrition education.

“It is hard in the islands,” Camacho said. “People vacation where we live, but they don’t see deeper into the poverty and struggle that are part of the community.”

She served as ASEOU’s Director for Political Affairs in 2018-19, and learned about the policies that shape the region, as well as the university community. This year, she’s the ASEOU Director for Diversity and Equity, representing minority groups on campus.

“I want to go back to my island and help my people.”

“I’m narrowing down what I’m passionate about,” Camacho said. “I enjoyed working to find solutions to issues, and encouraging students to engage in politics because it affects us all.”

From her first experience living in a two-story building, to finding mentors on campus, Camacho has built a vision of her future during the last couple of years at EOU. She said staff in TRIO and Student Affairs provided advice and support that kept her committed to her education.

“People from EOU have really helped me grow as an individual and form how I want my life to look five years from now,” she said.

Looking forward, Camacho said she feels prepared for the challenge of bringing healthcare services to some of the most isolated communities in the Northern Mariana Islands.

“Healthcare providers put themselves through so much work and sacrifice to keep giving back and that’s beautiful to me,” she said. “The world is hard enough, we need to come together to make it better for everyone.”

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