More than just a few extra days in Cariamanga

As I sit here and think about how incredible of an experience I have had during this summer with the Healthy Living Initiative; the most recent experience continues to resonate, which was my brief return to Cariamanga. It was a bittersweet good-bye to the rest of the group knowing that the main part of the summer was complete, but I would see all my new friends and colleagues back in Athens, a place so dear to my heart, in just a few short weeks.

The trip back to Cariamanga was uneventful, which for any traveling, is good traveling. It was a good flight, and when we arrived back in Cariamanga it was such a good feeling to be back there. I had grown so attached over the previous eight weeks and felt so comfortable being back. I was also very excited to get back to work in the communities. By the time I arrived back in Guara on Monday, I felt as if I had missed more than just 10 days worth of work. So much had happened!

Don José’s house that I had previously known was no longer there, and there was only a flattened piece of land with the areas for the foundation already excavated, and ready to be poured. The crew had been working hard to get this all ready, and they would continue working hard while I was there with them as well.

Foto #1

Also, the “playground” of the school where I had previously made school tire gardens was no longer there. The gardens were doing well, however the Ecua-volleyball court had been temporarily displaced and now there was a flat, fenced in space for drying the adobe bricks they had been making, and we were going to continue to make to complete the house for Don José and his family!

Foto #2

The brick making process is a very physically intense process, however it was a lot of fun! It was a very good group bonding experience and I was really able to spend a lot of quality time with Lucho, Don José and several of his kids during this process, from sifting clay, to mixing the clay and water in the pit that was made and then adding the straw binder to the whole mix to make the final material that we would place in the forms and then leave to dry.

It was much more than just making bricks, we spent hours, laughing, joking and telling stories about our lives to each other. There were even days when friends and community members of other areas such as Bella Maria came up to help!

Foto #3

Also, being able to share meals with the family was so wonderful and the food was delicious!  Doña Hilda is an amazing cook! I was able to spend some breakfasts, every lunch, and most dinners with Doña Hilda and the family during my extra week and a half in Cariamanga, which made it even more personal helping with the construction of the house.  I was even invited to help cut sugar cane, and make “panela”!

Foto #4

Foto #4(1)

Panela is a raw block of sugar, which is made by harvesting the cane, extracting the juice and cooking down the liquid until the raw sugar block remains.

Foto #5

In this process you are able to add various things as well for texture or flavor, and we chose to add ground peanuts to one batch!

Foto #6

Each activity, each meal and each day that passed I felt more and more a part of this amazing family and so proud and fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of their lives. It was such an incredible experience that they allowed to me to be a part of the building process, and be with them during such an emotionally challenging experience.

I am very sad to be leaving Don José and his family, however it makes me even more excited to know that I will be back in Cariamanga, in just a few (9) months and I will be able to see them again! For now I must focus on getting everything ready for the next few months back in Athens to be able to better benefit the communities of Cariamanga when I return next year. As well as for future endeavors of the Healthy Living Initiative!

-Charlie

Charlie Fulks is a first-year International Development Studies graduate student at Ohio University. He will be spending the next two years working closely with the TDI on all their future endeavors.

Advertisements

Reports From The Field V

It is around 8 o’clock in the morning and as we drive from breakfast to Guara, the community we are to work in, we are greeted by mist floating in the valleys. The scenery is very soothing and calming that it seems to have stepped out of a painting. When we get to our destined drop off points in order to hike to the more inland communities for our various activities, the dew on the grass and trees cling to our clothes and belongings. As we walk down the valley and hop from root to ground, we discuss strategies on how to approach the community members and make the activities community-led. This has become our daily ritual for the communities are dynamic and always full of surprises – good surprises.

The community of Guara is seated on a very mountainous landscape sweeping beyond what any eye can see. Green mountains hold each others hands as they reach for the horizon and touch the blue sky which is filled with beautiful white clouds. Trees and fields of corn and other crops grace the lee-sides of the mountains dancing to the sway of the breeze. Every person we bypass greets us with such openness and warmth. The dogs seem to be on edge more than ever for they bark out loudly as we approach various yards. We walk eagerly so as to get to our destinations faster, but to get away from the dogs as well. Don Darwin, our local coordinator, assures us that the dogs are more of guards than attackers so there is nothing to worry about.

We finally get to one of the houses after about 45 minutes of hiking. We are welcomed very warmly, and even if I personally have no idea what is been said, they are adamant on speaking to me. All I do is smile, nod, and focusing on the facial expressions of the speaker, I speak the little Spanish I know i.e. “si”, “no” and other agreeing sounds. After “talking” for about 5 minutes, our program director rescues me from my masquerade and I carry on to observing the conversation. I presume my crush-course Spanish lessons on YouTube did not pay off. THe challenges of not speaking the language is sometimes frustrating, but the Spanish speakers on the team are patient enough to explain every detail, and always encourage us (the non-Spanish speakers) to always ask questions. I presume by the time the summer is over, some decent Spanish will be spoken by many of us. This only shows that in as much as we are offering something to the communities, they are also giving us something live-sustaining – a new language.

The communities not only offer us the chance to practice Spanish, but their time as well. They are very hard working, and tend to leave their work in order to hear what we have to say. They are very patient and take their time to understand our various projects and usually offer their time to attend the various activities that we have set up. They also inform us how various projects done in the past aid them and that gives them the zeal to want to learn more from the current ones. This makes me realize that without the communities’ full involvement, the projects would not take much root. Am so glad that the communities embrace not only us, but our work as well. This gives us the enthusiasm to woke up each morning to do a great day’s work!

-Kombe

Reports From The Field II

Image

Working on the adobes has been tough, but very rewarding to see the progress we have made. As of now the part I like the most is the actual filling the molds with the wet cement-like mud, which are used to create the adobe bricks. It is fun getting down and dirty with mud and forming the bricks, plus your hands feel very smooth as the mud is an exfoliant. After being sick for the past few days I feel rejuvenated me and I have been very productive.  Today is also the last full day that the Service Learning team is in Bellamaria. We were given Service Learning t-shirts to where for today and tomorrow and now I can officially say I have gotten my first free t-shirt from Ohio University!!

Image

During needed water breaks throughout the day I talked with a few SL volunteers to see if they are enjoying the trip and the majority really had a great time! I am impressed how willing they are to work and push their comfort level by interacting with the community members of Bellamaria and trying their best to communicate with them.  Towards the end of the day much of the time was spent moving the adobe bricks so the rain would not destroy them. The adobe bricks are heavy and when they are not completely dry there is a risk of breaking them when picking them up so you have to be very careful.  The SL team and I worked on stacking the bricks and putting them in a place where the rains would not harm the hard work we have done throughout their week here.

Image

Tomorrow there will be a going away party for the Service Learning group and the community members! It should be fun seeing everyone interacting and dancing together!

-Nelson Patterson

Friday the 13th and our Open House

 

Friday the thirteenth, the day we were all expecting with a strange mix of excitement and dread. We were super excited about Healthy Living’s open house. The open house was HL’s closing event, where we would be showcasing what the team and the community members had been working on together for the past few weeks. On the other hand we were dreading two things: the bad luck of a Friday the 13th- which fortunately waited until the event was finished to manifest- and, more than anything, we dreaded the thought of having to say goodbye to the people of Chaquizhca, Guara and Bella Maria. People who had so warmly opened their homes, schools, and their hearts to us.

We arrived very early in the morning to set everything up, gosh I had like 300 drawings from the story telling and participatory project I was working on at the local schools. Lucky for me the children arrived shortly and came to my rescue. Later, some folks from our french ally institution Tsiky Tzanaka joined in, and we were done in the nick of time. The party started at around 10 in the morning, it was the perfect mix of a cultural fair and a gathering between good friends. There were booths with local produce and crafts, others with some creative work from the members of the HL team, and some from local partners and institutions. There were interactive activities like the solar clock, which aimed to show community members traditional alternatives to new technologies that have been forgotten; the family photo booth and community photo shows; the balance and jumping ropes for the children. I was in charge of the children’s room, where the drawings from the story telling and participatory sketching activities were showcased, along with art projects from the children’s class work. It was a very nice experience, having people come and explaining what the children and I had worked on for the entire month, why it was relevant and what was next.

Later on, there were performances from the children and community members. The best moment for me was when I found out the community members had set up a snack post with traditional Latin-American delights like empanadas and salchi-papas (fries and wienies); I always loved those back in Colombia and had missed them a lot. We concluded the event with a nice lunch and warm goodbyes. The children asked me “Lily, Lily!!! are you coming back next year?” I smiled cautiously and answered “God willing, I will try ” I was sad about the uncertainty of it all, but I felt worse about people who were probably asked the same question, but knew for sure they were not coming back. Still, whether we planned on coming back or not, we hoped that the communities had found our presence as enjoyable as we had found their company, and that our work had impacted their lives at least half as much as it did our souls.

Going home, Friday the 13th started kicking in: two vans had flat tires, we encountered all kinds of crazy stuff on the road, but at the end of the day there was nothing but satisfaction in the memory of that day. As we shared dinner and drinks we also shared warm and happy memories, funny anecdotes and jokes about some not so pleasant experiences. The open house had closed, but we hope that the hearts we tried to reach during our time there would remain open.

Apart from the display of children’s drawings, there are also other booths of Clinic, Entomology, Mammal, Entomology, Healthy Living, and some agriculture products and souvenirs bought to the Open House by local people. Let’s see what we have for the day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Link to the original post: http://oueduabroad.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/open-houses-open-hearts-and-bitter-sweet-farewells/

Focus Group on Healthy Housing

One particular thing about Healthy Living Project is that we have always used participatory approach while working with the communities here. This has been proved to be the appropriate method to approach the local people, who better understand their different aspects of life here and see things in a different way than the development experts or professionals. What we think may be good for them is not the same as what they think it is. Therefore, participatory approach is necessary to better comprehend the needs and necessities of local people and to bridge the gap in knowledge and understanding between local people and experts.

Image

The housing component is one of the five major components of HLP and has been the most critical part in our fight against Chagas and to improve housing and living conditions of the communities here. To engage local people in developing the idea of a healthy housing and living, we invited some women from the communities in Chaquizhca, Guara, and Bella Maria to conduct a focus group on Healthy House and Healthy Living.

 Image

The participants were shown some pictures of houses in different conditions and were asked what they see in the houses that need to be improved. After the evaluation of houses, we went on gathering ideas of how a healthy house should be. They were divided in two groups and each one tried to sketch an ideal house that can keep the bugs away and help them maintain a healthy living condition. From their sketching, it looks like they already had a clear idea of the house they want. The most encouraging thing that we found is that their picture of the ideal house also fits the requirement of a healthy house that we think of, which is built of nice materials, has fence, no animals in the house, and has cages for animals and pets located outside the house.

Image

The focus group ended up with the question of how to build the house that has this ideal conditions and what kind of assistance that local people require from donors, organizations, and from us. The participants supposed that they can build their own houses or improve their current place if they have enough money, and of course they need assistance in building houses, but they also believe they can do it with their labor.

Image

 Image

It was such a productive meeting as we could better understand the needs of people in building the houses, how they want to build their houses and how we could help them in achieving the goal. We are also happy with the fact that three out of five women came to the meeting will become our health promoters, which mean they will spread the knowledge and information within the community. We believe they will be the positive deviants among their communities and will help to promote how to live a healthy life and the importance of having a healthy house. Way to go, health promoters!!!!

Work hard, play harder!!! – A day with clinic team

One of the critical activities and components of Tropical Disease Institute’s Summer Program is health research, which is conducted by Clinic team. They have been working hard this whole week to set up the lab in and invite local people in Melva Usaime and Usaime communities to come and check for disease, not only Chagas disease but also overall health condition. After health checking, they also get consultation from our doctors to see what they should take for medication to improve their health condition.

Explaining the health checking process and getting signatures for consent forms

Local people waiting for health checking

The day started with setting up the lab and reception table for people who come for clinical test. They are first explained what the test is for and is asked for consent before taking their blood samples. Once they have understood the purpose of the research and agree to participate, they will sign in two copies of consent forms, with one for participant and one for our record. Children who are accompanied by their parents are also asked for their parents’ consent to take part in the research. A lot of people come with their children who are too small to understand what is going on, so we mostly get their parents consent for children under 12 years old. It is reported that there were 113 samples on the busiest day of the clinical team so far, and more than 90 people on average come everyday for health checking.

Taking blood samples for testing

OU and PUCE students working in the lab

When the consent forms have been signed, the participants will be sent to clinic room to take blood samples. While their samples are sent to the lab for testing, they can go to the vision clinic right next door to test for shortsighted and other vision diseases. Once we have the results of their samples from the lab and their vision tests, they are going to be sent to our doctors for consultation and medication if necessary. The process keeps the whole team working all day long although they are the biggest team in Healthy Living Initiative this summer with more than 30 people.

Measuring blood pressure, height and weight

checking vision for local people

Healthcare consulting

Well, working hard does not mean that clinic people don’t know how to have fun.  On our way to Melva Usaime in one of the “bananas”, music is always on and we were all swinging in the car not sure it is because of the music or the bumpy road. And after a long day working at the lab, they finally end up with a soccer or basketball game, while other team members who have finished their duties become the audience. It seems like the clinic people are both good at working hard and relaxing. Great job, clinic team!

end up the day with a soccer game! 🙂

Yes, participatory sketching works!

We had two days in a row working with children in different schools, one in Guara and one in Chaquizhca. Last year I visited the school in Guara twice for health education and so this time we came back with the booklet to see how well they remember the information. We were surprised that they could remember almost everything as they were drawing the answers to the evaluation questions. We used storytelling and participatory sketching to help them absorb the information more easily, and it works! The children are really interested in drawing and coloring is probably their most favorite thing to do. There were not a lot of students in the Guara school, about 10 in total but they were all very engaging and captivated with the booklets we delivered to them and with the drawing and coloring activities that we facilitated. Some of the drawings are so good that you hardly can tell it is from a 6-year-old girl, every picture that they draw just makes us more proud and happy about the process that we were going through. More than that, we feel more than pleased that the information from the booklet would be helpful to keep them away from Chagas disease and to live a healthier life. 🙂

Image

ImageImage

Image

Image

the booklet and drawing of one student

 We did the same activities with the school in Chaquizhca. The only difference is that there are many more students in this school than the one in Guara, which makes it more difficult for us to facilitate. However, we also received quite satisfying responses and beautiful drawings. We are happy with what we have got so far from both schools. There will be another activity in the school in Bella Maria next week and that is supposed to be done with storytelling and participatory sketching this summer. I am glad that we have made some impression about Chagas, which would help them to live healthier.

Image

Image

Image

On the other hand, knowing that I will hardly see these faces again after this summer, it is really hard when they come and ask every morning: “When are you coming back to our class?” Although I may not ever come back here to see them draw and color and ask me questions again, I hope they will remember me anytime they look at the booklet and remember the information I tried to remind them of through participatory sketching. That would be the biggest reward ever for me and the Healthy Living team after all our hard work and efforts to get the community to become more engaged in our fight against Chagas disease. I hope what the children have learnt will last long in their memories and will be helpful for them long in their lives. There would be nothing better that I could wish for the children and the communities here, and that is also what I have been trying to do with all my heart.

Image

Con nuestra labor, sin chagas en Ecuador!!!!

All the participants in the project, both from Ohio University and la PUCE arrived over the weekend, and it seems like the population of Cariamanga, or at least the area we are staying in has risen considerably as a result of their arrival as one cannot walk in Cariamanga without seeing a team member. On Monday we had a meeting in another hotel in Cariamanga with all of the participants where the different components of the project were explained to those who had arrived. Yesterday we went back to the communities, but this time in a whole fleet of different vehicles, school vans (called bananas by the team), SUVs and the tried and trusted pick up trucks driven by Don Victor and Eduardo. We left Cariamanga at 6 in the morning, after a rally cry led by Dr. Grijalva: “Con nuestra labor, sin chagas en Ecuador!” We arrived at the school in Chaquizca, where members of the Healthy Living team were greeted by students at the school we had worked with in the previous weeks. We had breakfast at the school including cereal, eggs, coffee, juice, bread and fruits; then split up into our fumigation teams to head to Guara.

Each team included members of a national health group that works in fumigation, they work both with chagas and malaria prevention, undergraduate students from Ohio University, students from la PUCE and members of the OU Healthy Living team. Our team arrived at Don Milenio’s house in Guara and proceeded to walk up, a direction that we would become very familiar with over 5 hours, to our first houses. We first arrived at the house of Don Sirilo, a very friendly man who welcomed us warmly with lemonade. He had a nice, adobe house and kept chickens and pigs outside of the house. After talking briefly with him and his wife, we went back down the hill to his daughter’s house, where we drank more lemonade, interviewed her with a socio economic survey while the other members of the team looked for chinchorros and fumigated the house. We then went back to Don Sirilo, and while Daniela did the interview, I helped looked for chinchorros. His house was very nice and clean and we found no chinchorros on the inside, however, while walking on the porch I spotted one on the outside wall. The chinchorro had likely just landed there from the fields and bushes near the house, and confirms the theory that while a house may be fumigated regularly, the chinchorros come back from the field to the houses once the danger is gone. We then spent about half an hour taking most everything out of the house so it could then be fumigated. While Marco, a PUCE biology student and John Jack got some good exercise by carrying a full tank of water out of the house, I had to deal with trying to get a defensive hen out of the bodega, trying to calm it down to prevent it from biting me. I tied her up outside of the house, and all the chicks that were inside the bodega before followed her out when they heard her voice. The fumigation was done by spraying the walls with the solution and giving attention to cracks in between walls where chinchorros may congregate. After the fumigation was complete we put the stuff back in the house, roughly where it was before and proceeded to the next house.

We took a slight detour through less walked upon paths going up hill over loose terrain to get to the next house, the house of Don Abram, which while classified for the project as part of Guara, is actually part of Luranda, which is in between Guara and Chaquizca. Here I interviewed Don Abram and we also talked about different foods that they eat there and he showed me his gamecocks that he had in bamboo cages, including a few that had already won a handful of fights. No chinchorros were found but the house, as all houses in the project was fumigated as a preventive measure. We then began a long trek back down to the highway, where we passed through woods, a creek, a pasture, where people attending the fields gave us oranges. We bumped into Don Sirilo again, who showed us the way back to the road, and while walking through his property, we saw a irrigation system called séquia, which channels the creek water in small canals above the fields, and when one wants to irrigate an area they dam the canal and make an opening in the side of it. We met up with Dr. Grijalva who drove us back to Chaquizca where we recuperated before taking a “banana” back to Cariamanga.

Written by Coner Tong

Strong coffee, long hike, fun times… our kick off in the field

We had our first day of fieldwork which involved all participants from all the different disciplines encompassed in the project. They came from all levels: undergraduates, graduates, experts and the local people were also quite involved.  The backgrounds of the student groups were multidisciplinary, we had students from an array of disciplines : biology, medicine, engineering, architecture, social sciences and even the humanities. So we split into three groups of entomology, one mammal research group and one clinical group.

Splitting into groups before going on field trip

We begun early in the morning at the elementary school in Chaquizhca, one of the communities we are working with, where we had a delicious breakfast prepared by “Don Pato” the project’s own cook, it was a slice of heaven. The coffee was extremely strong and dense, as it always is in Ecuador, one of the participants was even saying “I didn’t know what I was going to do, I was so sleepy, now I’m like ‘man I’m ready to go!’, really potent coffee”. After breakfast we split up into groups and went to visit houses or collect samples from animal to test for Chagas Disease and other research purposes.

One of the paths that we had to go through on our way to the houses.

Our group visited four houses in one of the most remote parts of Chaquizhca. We have visited these houses every summer to find bugs and spray every house  to get rid of chinchorros, also known as “the kissing bug”, clever insects that live in unkempt houses and feed on animals and people. chinchorros are particularly dangerous for people, as they carry a bacteria which causes Chagas and other diseases. Amongst all four houses that we revisited, we only found one chinchorro found, it was in the most remote house of the community. However, we still sprayed all the houses to make sure the chinchorros would stay away from them.

View from one of the houses that we visited

While the entomological  team was working on finding the bugs and spraying the house, other people in our groups  have different tasks. Some students conducted socio-economic surveys to find out the people’s source of income,  the architects worked on the blueprint and analysis of the house to see which ones need to be improved and which ones need to be completely rebuilt.

found a chinchorro!!!

Spraying the house to eliminate the chinchorros

Measuring to draw blueprint of the house

It was quite interesting that all of us have different research backgrounds and we are all in one group studying the same house from such a diversity of perspectives. After such a productive day, we came back to our base in elementary school in Chaquizca,  content with the outcome of the day and excited to tell other people what we found out during the day.

Interviewing for the social-economic survey

It was also quite an adventure as the places we visited are high up in the mountain and the way to get there is not easy at all. They are so remote that what for locals is “just right here” for us is a country mile’s journey. However, that makes the journey more exciting and adventurous to all of us. And well… hiking is also supposed to be a good exercise, right? 🙂

got bruise after the trip…still fun!

Healthy Living Project – An Initiative against Chagas disease

Image

The Healthy Living Project is a long-term initiative that aims to support the socioeconomic development of rural communities affected by Chagas disease in the province of Loja in southern Ecuador. With a holistic approach, this public health strategy looks to prevent the transmission of Chagas and other diseases “associated with poverty” by facilitating participatory processes of human development that are sustainable and sustained by the people involved.

The Healthy Living Initiative is actually working in Southern Ecuador, specifically with the communities of Guara, Bella Maria, and Chaquizhca, in Calvas County, Loja province. All of these communities were highly affected by the presence of chinchorros (insect vectors of Chagas disease).

Over the last 10 years, Dr. Grijalva, Director of Tropical Disease Institute at Ohio University, has been working constantly on the initiative against Chagas disease as well as Healthy Living project, which include the organization of study aboard program for students of multidisciplinary backgrounds. There have been hundreds of students coming to Loja province and working on the field with the communities in both scientific and social researches. The project has been so far involving with six components of health, security, housing, education, and economic development.  The comprehensive and community-involved perspectives are the main factors contributing to the effectiveness and exhaustiveness of the project.