Global Ministries hosts Karen Anderson of EPES

Global Ministries hosts Karen Anderson of EPES

epes_mural.jpgLast week the Indianapolis staff of Global Ministries welcomed Karen Anderson of Educación Popular en Salud (Popular Education in Health, EPES). She shared the grassroots approach to health that has made EPES one of the most effective promoters of wellbeing in Chile.

EPES was founded in 1982 during the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet to promote health and dignity for the poor through education, community mobilization and collective action. It began as a program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile (IELCH) and maintains close ties nationally and internationally with the Lutheran church but became an independent, Chilean non-profit foundation in 2002. Joining with local health practitioners, Karen began sharing methods of “popular education” based on Paulo Freire’s theories – which rely on the knowledge and insights of communities to name challenges and create solutions utilizing the capacity that exists within the group.

epe_001.jpg“Since 1982 Chile has changed tremendously,” Karen said, “but, 33 years later, we are facing new challenges.” The picture to the right shows the work sheet they now share while training health promoters, and helps to begin the discussion around the growing childhood obesity epidemic that has affected many of the communities in which they work.

But as was the case throughout her presentation, for each new challenge, the EPES health promoters are always able to identify a creative solution that is appropriate for their neighbors. In their most recent efforts, they have worked with community members to reclaim the healthy recipes of their grandmothers that were thought of too labor intensive to prepare. However, the group was not only able to reduce the work involved; they were able to improve the nutritional value of the meals as well. Karen couldn’t help but point out just how proud the community members were when the resulting cookbook was published. Another community started by searching the local markets for the produce that was the least expensive, and searching for ways to transform it into something health and delicious.

As she said time and again in her presentation, “When people feel empowered to address their own problems, they discover that they are capable of changing what others have deemed permanent problems.”

While EPES focuses largely on addressing systemic community issues that harm the health of the inhabitants, these methods can be applied to many situations. This became especially apparent when Karen shared how the community of Concepcion responded to the 2011 earthquake.

After the earthquake, only one of our staff persons were able to reach the office in Concepcion. Realizing that most of the city had lost their water supply, he was able to secure a generator to begin pumping water. In the desperation following major disasters, thirsty people began climbing the fence to reach this precious resource. Our staff said, “neighbors, there is enough to share, please come in.”

On the first day, so many were without water, that people were waiting in line for 6-8 hours. Relying on our community trainings, the staff member began soliciting ideas from the crowd. First, a few people volunteered to operate the pump. Then, it was agreed that everyone would receive a number of collecting water, and they could avoid having to spend so much of the day queueing when there were so many other tasks at hand. The community then realized that the elderly, injured, and sick had no way of carrying their own water, and teams formed to deliver water on their behalf.

Within the week, the community, that others might describe as materially poor and undereducated had created a system for providing water for hundreds of people. This is the innate power that is unlocked in communities when their dignity is restored.

international_school.jpgLooking toward the future, Karen spoke of the encouraging growth EPES has seen in their international training program – which not only shares EPES materials with organizations seeking to implement community health programs in other countries, but teaches the entire EPES approach and philosophy. In the first five years of this program EPES welcomed 110 students from 15 countries during 6 training programs – which recently expanded to include English speaking groups from Kenya and Uganda. During her presentation, she whole heartedly thanked Global Ministries for supporting scholarships for this program.

Global Ministries continues to welcome special gifts in order to provide needed support for the ministries of EPES in general.