The May 2018 EPES Update is Here!

**Read the May 2018 EPES Update here**

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Dear friends of EPES and AHA,

I don’t know about you, but lately it seems to me that the news is just one disaster after another, whether it be an earthquake, a flood, a tornado, a forest fire or a volcanic eruption. And that’s just the natural disasters, never mind the social ones we humans wreak with our greedy strivings. With the election of billionaire Sebastián Piñera as president, things look particularly bleak in Chile. There is widespread anxiety about what it will mean for health policy nationally, for funding for local efforts that have been so crucial to EPES’ work, and in general for Chilean society, already one of the most unequal on the planet. While Chile’s macroeconomic indicators look favorable, they mask huge income gaps within Chilean society; e.g., the top 1% bring in more than 30% of GDP, the top 10% more than 75%. And these gaps are reflected in health disparities.

The communities where EPES works have a heavy disease burden, compounded by the insecurity brought on by the increasing presence of drug trafficking and violence. When all this starts to overwhelm me, learning about EPES’ latest activities never fails to revive my spirits. When I was in Chile in March, I was honoured with an invitation to dinner during EPES’ annual planning retreat and had a chance to witness some of their discussions. I was literally moved to tears by the team’s dedication and passion, evident in every word and gesture.

This January saw the ninth delivery of the Escuela, EPES’ International Course on Popular Education in Health. There are now 167 graduates from 21 countries! I was particularly moved to learn of the participation of three women from Puerto Rico who are applying the EPES model in their work of recovery and community building in the aftermath of Hurricane María. With hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans still without power six months after the disaster, such work is vital.

Also in January, EPES provided Health Ministry primary care staff with training on participatory community strategies for health, part of an ongoing series of workshops through which EPES helps Chile’s health workforce develop essential competencies for working with communities.

When forest fires engulfed thousands of homes in Valparaiso in 2014, EPES was right there, one of the first organizations to respond to the emergency. EPES continues to demonstrate that it is in it for the long haul. This Update shares details of a fire prevention project in the Las Cañas community of Valparaiso, aimed at reducing vulnerability to fires by building public awareness and community capacity for fire prevention, control and management.

Other articles in this Update describe health group priority setting, EPES’ ongoing work on nutrition and food security, international influence, and the launch of a short video celebrating EPES’ 35 years working for health, dignity and justice in Chile.

The late Tommy Douglas once said, “Courage, my friends. ‘Tis not too late to build a better world.” Let us all take courage from EPES’ example. And thank you so, so much for all you do to support EPES in continuing to build that better world.

In solidarity,

Christina Mills MD FRCPC

President, Action for Health in the Americas

EPES International Training Course graduates 167th educator!

167 educators from 21 countries have graduated from EPES’ International Training Course

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Seventeen people, hailing from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Uruguay and several regions of Chile, graduated from EPES’ Ninth International Training Course on Popular Education for Health, held in Santiago and Concepción January 7 – 17, 2018.

The latest graduates brought the universe of trained health advocates to a total 167 people, who put in practice in their respective 21 countries community health work from a human rights approach, guided by methodology they learn from EPES’ International Course.

Since the inception in January 2010 of the International Training Course, popularly known as “la Escuela”, people from diverse backgrounds and social contexts have gained understanding of the benefits of popular education methods in promoting dignified health. They return from each annual Escuela equipped to form community health groups, strengthen local work and explore the role churches can play to achieve the right to health.

This year’s Escuela was enriched by the presence and participation of three women from Puerto Rico:  Elda Guadalupe Carrasquillo, environmental health education teacher, from Vieques; Aida Edward, community health promoter and leader of the town of Loíza; and Aurinés Torres-Sánchez, University of Puerto Rico Medical School professor, who participated in the second International Training Course held in 2011. Elda Guadalupe and Aida Edward traveled to Chile thanks to a scholarship made possible by the EPES Foundation.

Elda, Aida and Aurinés met, they say, “thanks to Maria”, the category 5 hurricane that devastated the island September 19 and 20, dramatically altering the lives of thousands. In the face of governmental chaos and disorganization, people came together as first responders of their own communities. In wake of the storm, six months ago, when their paths crossed for the first time, the three helped spawn community-based organizations drawing from the EPES popular education for health model.

The Ninth International Training Course featured a presentation from Elda, Aida, and a Aurinés, entitled: Application of Popular Education in Health in post-hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico: Lessons from a colonial state. Fellow Escuela participants and EPES staff learned about Puerto Rico’s social and political situation, with its awakened conscience in 2017, expressed in demonstrations and protests in response to an economic crisis that deepened after hurricanes Irma and Maria, the latter the most powerful to strike the island since 1929.

The women described how their towns of Vieques and Loíza have reemerged with a more unified community, in part as a result of popular education methodology that enabled them to train health promoters and organize a flurry of integral health and environmental activities.

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In addition to learning about the Puerto Rican experience, in Concepción, Escuela participants learned about EPES’ community work in the Biobío Region and visited the locale of Penco. They also met women leaders of Villa Montahue, built for families who lost everything after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and last summer found themselves protecting their homes from yet another catastrophe: forest fires. The women spoke of the experience of having to rebuild their neighborhoods and their lives from scratch as well as the fire prevention activities that now have become routine.

Previously, in Santiago, the International Training Course conducted workshops on social determinants of health, with a special focus on gender, enjoyed hands-on learning through EPES educational board games, and acquired know-how on methodologies for promoting and recovering nutritional health, as well as other issues.

The Rev. Lisandro Orlov, theologian and pastor with the United Evangelical Church of Argentina, imparted the course “Faith Communities and the Promotion of Rights: Health  without Stigma or Discrimination” on his pastoral experience in HIV and AIDS prevention. Pastor Orlov, who is a member of EPES multi-disciplinary team of health educators during the Escuela, promotes a model for working on HIV/AIDS based on a message of freedom, rather than the prevailing medical, ethical-legal models.

The students also carried out three community actions, together with the Llareta Health Group, Circle of Women for Health, and the David Werner group. With these veteran health promoters, they alerted shoppers at the two open air markets of El Bosque to the high sugar content in soft drinks, urging people to consume more water and fruit. In addition, they painted a mural and learned about historic memory of the La Bandera neighborhood’s courageous struggle for social justice.

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No Escuela would be complete without its “Cultural Night” and students of this ninth version enjoyed an evening of music, dance, theater and poetry. Participants displayed their artistic abilities, sharing the distinctive cultures of their respective countries.

According to Karen Anderson, ELCA Global Mission Personnel and Director of the EPES International Training Course, under the slogan “Learning by doing to promote and expand the right to health”, EPES will soon unfurl promotional efforts for its Tenth International Training Course to be held in January 2019. A decade after the inaugural Escuela, EPES promises to foster a new generation of future health promoters beyond the borders of Chile, where EPES yearly reaches more than 145.000 women and their families in the country’s poor communities, through innovative strategies and the construction of tools for empowerment and collective action.