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