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Peer Educators Advocate For Healthy Change In Communities



According to United Health Foundation when it comes to health New Mexico ranks 37th nationally. When it comes to young people those numbers are even worse. 

‘Advocacy at work’ is a New Mexico State University” initiative project that’s training school students to teach their classmates about health issues.

It only takes Las Cruces high school sophomore Brandon Cullum 45 minutes to strip a bike down to it’s parts and then completely put it back together again.
“I love working with my hands. I can build a bike from the bottom up. I have always being able to do it. Like I can take the tires off, I can take the chains of I can just do anything” Cullum said. 

Cullum is replacing a bicycles flat tire, re-aligning it’s wheels and testing it’s gears and brakes he said aside from teaching him about mechanics bikes have given a quality of life, allowed him to be independent, meet people and be active.  

"I love popping tricks on my bike’ “It gets your muscles in your legs if you go fast and you get muscles in your legs, just a lot of things you have exercise. Just cardio in your legs basically.” Cullum said. “It saves gas, you don’t even need gas to be honest you just ride it around. Saves money too.’

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the integration of bicycling into daily life is an ideal way form of physical activity that can address a host of the health issues; obesity, heart disease and mental illness.

But many Las Cruces  are not enjoying health benefits of biking because they can’t afford bikes. As part of a Health ‘Advocacy at work’ in schools initiative Cullum is developing a project to teach kids how to repair bikes using recycled parts.  

“I wanted to build bikes for kids” Cullum said “I am going to start building bikes. I built me one and I started seeing all these little kids walking around and I want to build them bikes so they wouldn’t have to walk around.” “They would get there faster to where they need to go.”

This is just one of many student Advocacy at Work project being hatched at Las Cruces High School. New Mexico State University Health Policy Graduate student Ruben Marquez is overseeing the project. He is working to get students thinking about health issues and showing them how to effect change in their community.

“Whether it is the way they look at their community, whether it is they way they look at their own health, family health from a variety of outcomes with their project, they get to choose the health outcome then they look at the risk factors.” Marquez said “Then develop a plan.”

Marquez said the most effective way to reach young people is through their friends and peers.  

“They understand what interests their peers have, so they are the group that can create those sorts of things"
Marquez said. 

With Marquez’s guidance Cullum is still mapping out the finer details on his bicycle mechanic project. Marquez said he hopes the impact on students like Cullum will go far beyond their projects.

“My personal goal here is to get them to consider public health as a study or a career or even it is just a way that they perceive they’re surroundings’ Marquez said “the biggest portion is primary prevention. Before it (health issues) ever happen.”

Marquez says he hopes to address health issue in our region along with the shortage of health care professionals.  According to the New Mexico Department of Health more than 40% of New Mexico’s population is living in a primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas. 

Simon Thompson was a reporter/producer for KRWG-TV's Newsmakers from 2014 to 2017. Encores of his work appear from time to time on KRWG-TV's Newsmakers and KRWG-FM's Fronteras-A Changing America.