Itzel Reyes came to Mexico Migrahack knowing very little about how a hackathon works. She also had little experience in journalism, having just started her career in media. But she found herself drawn to one of the teams that formed organically at the event, one that would focus on the health issues affecting Mexican immigrants to the United States.
“Once I joined the group, I got excited by the prospect of creating a product that would help inform the people who feel the need to migrate to the United States,” Reyes says. “Afterwards, I decided to stick to this project because I think it’s so useful for researchers and human rights organizations, so they become aware of the conditions under which fellow Mexicans live in the U.S.”
Public health researcher and economist Gabriel García Plata, the Salud Migrante (Migrant Health ) team organizer, wanted to know: What’s the biggest sacrifice most migrants make to avoid going back to Mexico, where they may not find many opportunities, and may have to face violence? After looking at data and interviews, the group was surprised by the answer. Turns out migrants were most willing to sacrifice their health.
After analyzing the data during Mexico Migrahack “we became pretty convinced that what we had started had the potential of creating a real change in the lives of migrants,” García Plata says. “There are so many ways in which migrants suffer before and after crossing the border. Before, they may face a series of abuses, from sexual exploitation, to forced recruitment in gangs, and human rights abuses. Afterwards, they have to become invisible, foregoing access to health care services and protection from abuse.”
The seven-member team, made up of an economist, a software programmer, a statistician, a biologist, and journalists, learned data visualization through tools like j.query, GIS, and mapbox. After Mexico Migrahack, they kept in touch, collaborating in their off-hours, volunteering their time to establish a unique domain name, more data visualizations and mapping, and an interactive webpage. What had been a simple map with lots of static text, had now become a well-designed, interactive, and thorough examination of the prevalence of the top seven health issues affecting Mexican migrants.
This past June, Salud Migrante was one of five winners at Hackslabs, a data journalism accelerator focused on Latin America. Hackslabs’ $2,000 grant has been invested back into the project, which will soon feature more hard-to-find data on the health status of immigrants.
Meanwhile, the team is also hoping to raise more funds so they can expand their reach. The plan is for the Salud Migrante website to become a platform where journalists, academics, and NGOs can share and exchange information with the public, both to educate, and work towards reducing the challenges faced by Mexican migrants in the United States.
María Idalia Gómez, an award-winning Mexican journalist with more than 20 years’ experience covering corruption, justice and security, is proud of the work she contributed to Salud Migrante. The experience at Mexico Migrahack, she says, has helped her and her colleagues grow.
“This experience helped me realize that journalists are indispensable to the work of specialists like economists, geographers, designers,” Gómez says. “But we need to be willing to collaborate outside of our field, equipped with good information, good data, and good tools.”