June in El Salvador
In June 2022 as part of my MPH internship, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks with IHELP team members in Texistepeque, El Salvador to implement our Community Health Worker (CHW) trainings in two caserios (small villages) within the municipality of Texistepeque: Bendición de Dios and La Y Griega. IHELP began the Texistepeque caserios partnership to empower local people to become health leaders in their communities. IHELP’s commitment to equipping local health leaders is particularly relevant as it is a rural area with limited access and increased barriers to healthcare. Because of our established relationships with local people in Texistepeque, in addition to a community needs assessment, IHELP worked with community members to identify key health issues affecting their communities most. We taught several topics including taking care of a sick person, taking vital signs, nutrition, diabetes, renal failure, general first aid, respiratory illnesses, and much more.
As an IHELP intern and team member, my role consisted of directly teaching certain health topics, translating, assisting in monitoring and evaluation work, and more. My favorite part of the experience was getting to know community members, and embracing hospitality being welcomed into their lives and realities in rural El Salvador. This experience connected me to IHELP’s approach and mission, that is, to come alongside local community members providing knowledge and tools to improve overall health in their communities.
While engaging in dialogue with CHWs, I was touched hearing what motivated them to participate in our CHW training. One CHW shared with us that “it is never too late to learn or to try something new in life.” I quickly noticed that several women came to be trained as CHWs. Many shared that they wanted to become CHWs to meaningfully serve their communities beyond traditional gender norms in their culture. There was much beauty in accompanying community members genuinely interested in learning about health topics that otherwise would not have access to health education. In El Salvador I witnessed the fruit of IHELP’s empowerment education model: the commitment of CHWs to share the health knowledge they have learned and taking ownership of their community’s health. This will have a sustainable impact on health promotion for years to come.
Mutuality in Global Health
]Being an IHELP intern, both within the United States and El Salvador, I could not help but reflect on the role of relationship-building and community organizing in Global Health. Partnering with international communities is an immense privilege and opportunity to engage in reciprocal relationships and mutual learning (mutuality). Mutuality proves a powerful path forward in global health to ensure voices are heard of the community members we aim to educate, equip, and empower. If we engage in such relationships at the grassroots level, a bottom up approach (instead of top down programming often seen in the field) takes into account the lived experience of each community member. Even as a capacity building organization offering health training to CHWs, we as trainers and as an organization have much to learn from the CHWs we train. In El Salvador I gained an increased appreciation for this mutuality as I learned so much from CHWs; we all have something to offer and learn from one another, regarding health knowledge and beyond. I conclude with a quote by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who wrote in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Nobody educates anybody else, nobody educates themselves, people educate among themselves mediated by the world.”