Levi writing from Quito, Ecuador. I’m writing this blog post after having volunteered three weeks at MAP Internacional Sección Ecuador. MAP has accepted me as an intern at their offices for three months. So far, the time has really challenged me to improve my Spanish and explore concepts of community health. Truly, I’ve been thinking so much, and sifting through so many ideas, I’m just going to write quite generally about the organization, their vision/framework, and my role in it. Details will come later.
I spent the first few days at MAP simply reading literature about MAP’s vision for integral, community health. Understanding this dense, abstract material in Spanish was slow going at first; I was constantly using my Spanish-English dictionary (yet, often “big words” are latin-based cognates shared with English). Gradually I began to enjoy the learning. It was a certain level of academia that I realized I had been craving.
MAP recognizes the multitude of factors that affect health: diet, work, atmosphere, water, education, social environment, spirituality, and community behaviors. The organization believes that an impoverished community needs to self-sustainably improve all of these factors in order to better their health and wellness. The support that MAP provides communities is primarily in the form of meetings, support groups, and education for local health “promoters”. These promoters are then convicted to arrange meetings and implement changes in their own communities—with their very own neighbors. These changes are to be both self-empowering and long-term in their scope. This empowerment helps villages advocate on a number of levels; in the church, out on the crop fields, within the local municipality. Villages sometimes begin to realize that illness and infant mortality might not be their own fault, but rather, a result of social or political injustice: A factory is leeching chemicals upstream; The municipality decided not to build water lines or electricity by the poor village; The residents are denied microfinance loans in cities because of prejudice towards indigenous.
Obviously, MAP’s vision was partially born out of a well-justified critique of other modern international health charities, which are often based on the “vertical” provision of health supplies and education. Often, North American NGOs arrive on-site in remote communities with pills, vaccinations, bags of rice, and diarrhea protocol pamphlets. They stay for a couple of days, teaching and providing, and then they leave. The community eventually runs out of these provisions, slowly returning to normalized chronic illness and malnutrition. And often, even more rapidly, the local community drops by the wayside the “lifestyle advice” and educational pamphlets because these teachings criticize indigenous practices or demand an unrealistic standard of North-American hygiene.
Additionally, the South American MAP sometimes critiques the approach of occidental medicine, describing it as an analytical and diagnostic process aimed at eradicating pathogens and reliving the symptoms of atypical conditions. According to these writings, occidental medicine is based in a mechanistic worldview that considers the human body as the functional unit. By extension, the diagnoses and the treatments are focused on a single body, preferably a body stationed within the lavishly-controlled hospital environment.
For MAP, health and medicine are much more broadly defined. Health is something that exists between people and can be achieved by the concerted effort of a community. Health also has a spiritual/emotional component. Healthy people are in balance with creation, with family and friends, and with God. There are many medicinal worldviews (beyond the occidental) that legitimately attempt to explain the integrated and embodied lives of human beings. For this reason, MAP attempts to recognize and give credit to local indigenous medicinal/spiritual practices by learning about these practices from local promoters and brainstorming ways that they can be preserved and applied in the modern context. MAP is Christian organization with a more evangelical flavor, so this acknowledgement of indigenous spirituality is fairly new and radical when juxtapose against the pre-existing Catholic syncretism.
MAP Ecuador has chosen to enter into relationships with three communities in the country. One village is the mountains (Apatug), one village in the Amazonia (Tambayacu), and one village near the coast (Valle de Toachi). The support and mutual learning is a long-term commitment for both MAP and each respective village. MAP provides very few physical resources, deliberately keeping their provisional budgets low so as to avoid the vertical reliance that cripples many Latin-American charity recipients. They meet with local leaders to help self-advocacy in municipal and provincial spheres. They connect, brainstorm, and learn together.
Sooooooo, my role has been:
-Travelling to the villages, and attending the capacitation meetings with the local promoters (so that I can learn myself)
-Helping install and maintain water filters (that each family has bought). Conducting interviews and discussing the actual benefits of these filters.
-In the office, translating into English where needed. Often for materials and reports sent to MAP headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
-Investigating and writing an academic report (in Spanish and English) about an Andean indigenous medicinal practice involving guinea pigs. More to come next time….
-Creating, editing, and dubbing an English video about this traditional practice.
-Eventually, I’ll help collect data about the community residents: Height, Weight, Blood Pressure, Vision, Development, etc.—hopefully, this data will be measurements of the effectiveness of MAP’s programs over the course of years.
At this point, I feel like I’m learning more than helping. But slowly I’m seeing ways that I can contribute. And with every new Spanish word I learn, I can express myself, my ideas, and my abilities to my coworkers. The MAP team is a wonderful group of 7-10 convicted Christians with whom I have loved to talk and share about life. As we drove back from the mountains the other day, the comfortable, joking atmosphere made me forget that I was even talking Spanish.
My situation is Quito is idyllic. The weather is beautiful, the bike paths are extensive, and Quito Mennonite Church is full of fantastic people who have spent time with me and shown me around town. Perhaps my greatest fortune is that I’m in the house of Cesar and Patricia Moya Urueña (parents of Andrea, Juan, and Daniel). I’m honored to learn from these great proponents of Anabaptist Theology; from the churches they have planted and the wisdom they exude.
Obviously there are many loose ends in this update. I’ve mentioned a lot that I didn’t fully explain or describe. Keep watching for posts!