From Argentina, Nicaragua, Colombia, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and several Chilean provinces, 19 community health activists, immigrant rights advocates, church workers, and teachers gathered in Santiago, Chile January 15–25 for EPES Foundation’s 12th International Training Course on Popular Education in Health.
As I write this, I am still basking in the afterglow of EPES’ 40th anniversary celebration—this Special Edition EPES Update will explain why! It was exciting and moving to review the history of EPES’ work and meet some of the many people who have benefited from it, and helped make it happen. I am deeply awed by the depth and breadth of EPES’ contributions. If you haven’t had an opportunity to donate yet, or if you wish to make a special donation to honor the 40th anniversary, please take a moment to do it now. Your contribution will be welcomed and put to good use in the continuing struggle for health and human dignity.
With heartfelt thanks for your ongoing support, I wish you and your families peace and health as we move into a new year.
I am so excited about EPES’ 40th anniversary that I can barely sit still long enough to compose this letter—I know I’m not alone in feeling I truly need the boost this celebration will provide!
Like most of the rest of the world, Chile is still reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, the personal and social trauma inflicted by the pandemic were compounded by the devastating results of the constitutional referendum on September 4. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that, if the draft had been approved, Chile would have had the world’s most progressive constitution, with positive implications for health, the environment, education, indigenous rights, human rights generally, and much more. But our hopes were dashed, and now Chile will have to begin a new process to replace the Constitution imposed by the dictatorship 42 years ago. There is no question that Pinochet’s constitution must go: 86% of Chileans were clear about that. The question now is how to come up with a draft that will be acceptable to a majority of Chileans. The rejection campaign outspent the approval campaign by at least ten to one. Clearly, Chile’s wealthy elites will do whatever they can to block substantive change.
Meanwhile, EPES staff continue their vital work for health and dignity for all. The November 2022Updatewill tell you about EPES’ critical activities in mental health, nutrition and food sovereignty, and human (especially migrant) rights. There is a thread of connection in all these programs, as they bring together diverse communities—immigrant, First Nations, urban— over shared problems, and encourage them to develop collective solutions. I look forward to being in Chile to celebrate EPES’ extraordinary 40 years of working for justice, dignity and health, and to share in their recommitment to the work ahead, of building a brighter future for Chile. I hope you feel these connections too, because it is your steadfast support that makes the work possible.
Thank you for all you do, and for your continued support of EPES.
EPES was born when Chile was in the depths of the Pinochet dictatorship, and we didn’t know then whether EPES would survive one year, never mind forty. Defying the odds (few, if any, small nongovernmental organizations survive from that time), EPES has continued to work tirelessly for health and justice over the succeeding four decades. Along with information about recent activities, this Update provides a snapshot of EPES’ achievements so far. I think you’ll agree that it is a remarkable story of dedication and solidarity.
Among recent activities, you’ll read about EPES’ work in nutrition, migrant health, mental health, human rights (including the right to be free from gender-based violence), and more. I think the four-decade snapshot gives useful context and helps explain how they are able to achieve both breadth and depth in their programming. I am always amazed at how much EPES is able to accomplish with such a small staff—EPES truly is the Little Engine that Could!
But, like so many millions around the world, EPES staff and allies have been hit hard by COVID. Most recently, we mourn the death of Mónica Jeannette, a beloved leader of the Llareta Health Group, one of the earliest health promoter teams trained by EPES. Two of EPES’ senior staff are on sick leave right now, which places an additional burden on the rest of the staff.
Nonetheless, this is a year of hope for Chile, with a newly elected government that is vastly more representative of the people than any since the military coup in 1973, and the Constitutional Assembly preparing to release a new constitution to go to referendum in September—if approved, it will replace the one imposed by Pinochet, which enshrined neoliberalism and ensured the immiseration of the majority of the population. Just imagine how much more EPES can accomplish when no longer obstructed by a system based in institutionalized injustice.
Of course, none of this would be possible without your generous support—and I hope we can count on your continued solidarity. I hope, too, that you will be able to join us in Chile November 19–26 to celebrate EPES’ four decades of work for health and dignity, and to help launch another decade of commitment to social justice.
In solidarity and peace,
Christina Mills MD FRCPC President, Action for Health in the Americas
I am always moved and impressed when I receive descriptions of EPES’ latest work and realize how much they are able to do with so few resources. In 2021 alone, EPES reached people from 18 countries, all while coping with the ongoing stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, now in the latter half of its second year. In this Update, you’ll learn about how EPES is addressing mental health issues in the communities it serves. EPES has organized workshops on psychosocial support, addressing issues such as self care, Grief, caregiver burden, collective responses to mental health challenges, and the importance to mental health of engagement in the natural world.
EPES’ important work on food sovereignty continues apace, with a training workshop and creation of a community garden in Concepción. In Santiago, a transcultural workshop with participants from the Mapuche community who live in the El Bosque municipality provided an opportunity to explore and exchange indigenous knowledge and methods of growing food.
Food sovereignty was also on the agenda (along with other topics) in an exciting online event in October, when women from Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe who had attended EPES’ International Training Course held a reunion to share experiences applying what they had learned about popular education, strategic planning, community participation, and creative evaluation methods. EPES’ methods clearly travel well, and are contributing to improved nutrition and greater economic autonomy for women in these communities.
The Update also describes the various activities through which EPES has continued to support the struggle for human rights and access to health care on the part of Chile’s immigrant communities. This work, as is EPES’ custom, combines practical responses to concrete needs, capacity building, and advocacy to change public policies and institutions.
This multilevel approach has characterized EPES throughout its history, and, I believe, has been a major contributor to its extraordinary longevity. Next year, EPES will celebrate 40 years of work, 40 years in which they have dealt with recession, repression, natural disaster and public health calamity, never once wavering in their commitment to stand with the poorest and most marginalized. Thank you for all you have done to support EPES’ efforts on behalf of health, dignity and justice. I hope we can count on your continued support as we enter the homestretch for EPES’ 40th anniversary.*