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Thoughts on Culturally Appropriate Coaching

As one of the goals we have is to serve and support the collective health of community-based groups that focus on activism and social change, I seized the opportunity to go to a remote small town in a southern highland region of Mexico in the state of Chiapas where I have had long-standing contact with the founding mothers. Having just dedicated these past two years to gain the knowledge and experience to coach anyone who wants to change a habit that is not serving their health I decided to serve where people really need support.

I am here to serve and get the practice hours necessary for the National Board of Health & Wellness Coaching Certification Exam now that I have earned my masters in the same concentration from the Maryland University of Integrated Health. I came to have an enriching exchange for both sides, to learn about the struggles of Mayan women who speak Tzotzil and Tzeltal and have way different cultures, living conditions as well as health issues. Health care should not be one size fits all, and neither should wellness coaching. The industry has been critiqued as having appropriated skills, and spiritual teachings and then catering its services to the mainstream white American public. Seeing very few wellness resources specifically written for Latin@s of all skin tones and feeling passionate about using my light-skinned privilege as a biracial person for modeling education beyond the deep-seated systemic prejudice that was installed by the colonial mindset that permeates the whole system from its foundation.

Prior to my arrival, the community group that I am partnering which is called CEFOCAM which provides training to rural women of the highlands of Chiapas had told me that the principal health issues here are diabetes, poor nutrition, and heart disease. Once I got here and saw firsthand how people leave out food for extended periods of time, I started feeling unsure of the safety of consuming the food where I am staying. That got me thinking about this topic in a broader sense. There are many families here whose level of poverty has them living without refrigeration. Foods that have been prepared are left in the pots all day and when people come home from work are thoroughly reheated to be consumed again. I have also seen in the marketplace chickens and other meats being sold that are not refrigerated at all and that is quite shocking for me. This has inspired me to set a meeting with the health promotion staff here and use my curiosity to find out if they have done any education around food safety. Potentially, some conversations around the prevention of food poisoning and contracting parasites can occur and see if the topic can be addressed in the future.

As I approach my coaching practice with curiosity and respect for other cultures and traditions, I find that there are infinite opportunities to learn during such exchanges. I will absorb all I can of the interests and perspectives of this indigenous group as I expand my own cultural competency and subsequently enrich my coaching practice. Being appropriate is more than using the politically correct terminology and being fair to all the people we have dealings with, it’s how we approach diverse groups, being humble and not expecting others to adapt to our postures of privilege.

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