As I enjoy my coffee, I keep thinking how we can continue to help more people medically and if possible to help them as well to break the cycle of poverty. The more I think about it, I don’t like the fact that even though all of our efforts and love when having medical teams come are certainly needed and appreciated, we leave the communities in a normal devastation and lack of opportunities when were gone. Guatemala is still at a 60% poverty level and growing, hospitals are collapsed, doctors and nurses are on strike because they haven’t gotten paid in the past 4 months and people are dying from treatable conditions.
In most cases, the general rule is that eventually you might go back to each community but not in the short term. We live in an era where economic crisis is a common situation and because of that, donations and resources in general are very limited. I see thousands of people and medical teams coming to Guatemala, but in general I don’t perceive a change. I don’t mean they don’t come to work or help people, I can’t imagine what the situation would be if they didn’t come at all. Their efforts are saving lives, but they can only do so much in short periods of time and their funds are very limited.
I have been working on a strategy where I only focus on the long term. You see, the short term is the day by day solution but what about the long term?
Any organization, university, church or NGO that wants to come and help Guatemala (and I hope you can apply this to other countries) have very important key points to develop.
AS much as you would like, you can’t serve thousands of communities; but if you know the region where you are going to work, you really need to divide that region by sectors. A very specific map of the region is needed in order to determine how many communities are in that specific region and then you can divide it by sectors.
This will help you to determine distances and how many communities are close to each other; and by having this information you can decide what would be the best approach and strategy. Perhaps you have 4 or 5 communities that are close to each other. You can unify all of your efforts in one of them and share the information with the others. This way, they can come to community 1 in an organized way per day, thus affecting all the communities within that radius.
Also, this would help you to determine if these communities are friends with each other. In our culture there are so many cultural and social differences within the Mayan culture that you might never have a clue if they are friends or not. Then, if you are not aware of that you will never be able to help a region, even if all of them need the medical attention.
2. Leaders and communities:
One thing is clear, regardless of the size of the community, you need to make genuine alliances with the leaders of each community. One factor that is important to be aware is that most of the leaders might have political interests to gain votes at their own town, so you really need to check if their hearts are on the right place. Church leaders can be another great allies and you need to spend time if possible with all of these leaders at each community prior to the arrival of your medical team.
This can’t be a simple visit a week before your team arrives, but a genuine relationship where both parties help each other. Your interests and goals are theirs and vice versa. (Skype is a great tool).
When having teams from Universities where I have formal programs, I make sure they are aware of our reality and that does not mean in general but the reality of every specific town. It takes time to develop these relationships and I can tell if I’m more well-known because of the medical teams I bring to each community or because of my coffee business.
Trust is a key point and it takes time, but once you have that kind of relationship it is such a pleasant program for the short and long term. And believe me they will watch your back as you are helping their community.
When interacting with the amazing people that attend the medical clinics (and I hope other programs), I can see they want to feel better; otherwise they would not be waiting in line for hours or have to walk hours to get there (another key point when dividing the region by sectors).
Imagine empowering their lives by simply asking them “What are your main medical needs as a community?”. Having the help of the local leaders if you are planning to come back to the same region in the long term is very important. It is very critical to teach people to have focus groups as a community, we need to help them to be organized in every aspect. We need to help them to think differently! Being poor is not about lack of money, but lack of knowledge!
Perhaps there are a lot of sick people with diarrhea and vomiting, but did you know that their main need is to have a septic tank on their community or that all the pipes are broken and contamination is getting into their water source?
Having an organized community is POWERFULL, and you don’t need a lot of money to make that happen. You need a place where they can meet and people from your team that can facilitate the know how to show them the way so they can be organized.
I have done this already in some communities and once they see how powerful this is they don’t want to stop. Of course you need a method to make this happen (I will share more about mine in the future), but once people realize they can do simple things as this to develop a strategy it is a huge step to break the cycle of poverty.
Perhaps this time the focus group is about what the main medical needs are, and next time it is going to be about productivity or entrepreneurship. Parallel to this you are teaching others to be leaders and perhaps they didn’t know they have that characteristic or opportunity. Focus groups can take hours and that is the main point, help them to develop a strategy as a community, YOU are only a facilitator.
4. Educate the way:
So many times I have read: “Lead the way” but what if we can simply teach the way? We can’t be all the time in every community, medical teams come and go and they are not coming back to the same community the next time.
But if you teach people how to be healthy in the long term, perhaps the next time they won’t need your help because they are organized and have their own small clinic as a town.
I spent a lot of time making sure we can teach diabetic and HBP patients to eat healthy and in fact work with their reality.
Make it fun: I won’t tell a housewife you need to eat vegetables and fruits and that’s it. Empower them ONCE AGAIN by teaching them how to make delicious salads or so with what they have, and have a day where you can invite them to a workshop (once again local leaders is a key factor for these opportunities). Most of these people have access to fresh vegetables and fruits (The other day I was in a hot desert region and all I could see were the mangos falling off from the trees by the dozen, first thought was they should learn how to make mango jelly and sell it. Instead those mangos are getting eaten by the pigs.)
I do believe you have to have strategies divided into timelines.
4.1 Strategy to develop all your relationships
4.2 Strategy to continue developing that relationship
4.3 Divide your region on sectors
4.4 Educate in every possible way parallel to having your medical teams on site.
4.5 Help the community to learn how to be organized, one person can't do much but an organized community can destroy walls.
As a personal goal I want to help empower and facilitate communities, so in the long term I can let them go and move to the next region. To empower people they don’t need money, they need knowledge to get that money.
At the end TEACH, TEACH AND TEACH.