A boy in Honduras stands in his home.
By Julia Kayser*
October 19, 2012—From September 13 – 27, UMCOR sent several staff on a fact-finding mission to communities in four Latin American countries. Their goal was to learn the communities’ hopes, dreams, needs, and concerns, especially in the area of health, and how UMCOR might help them to realize them. The delegation, which was guided by the Methodist leadership of each country, met with and listened to UMCOR partners in the field and to the local people themselves as they each spoke about their community, church, and national life.
Shannon Trilli, director of UMCOR Global Health, attended the first half of the trip. Landon Taylor, manager of UMCOR Church and Donor Relations, attended the whole trip, along with Rev. Jamie Bentley and layperson Sue Pike Bower of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church of Kansas City, Missouri. Both Good Shepherd and UMCOR wish to invest in partnerships and be in mission with the people of Latin America.
First, they went to Panama, where they visited an indigenous village with community-based primary health care, attended a local church, and met with Bishop Pablo Morales Vega. From Panama they traveled to Nicaragua. They visited partner organizations Acción Medica Christiana and El Porvenir, as well as a mobile health clinic. Then, they traveled to Guatemala, where they visited an organization called Salud Y Paz, which trains and sends out community health workers. Last, the group went to Honduras, where they visited the Mariposa Project for community-based health care, along with several local churches.
At each place they visited, the group “had to leave our agenda at the door,” says Landon Taylor. “We had to go in with open ears and open eyes and really listen.” UMCOR only works in places where it is invited, and it seeks to engage each community in dialogue to find out, from their perspective, what they need the most. At each site the team visited, missionaries, mission interns, pastors, and partner organization staff helped them to dialogue with the local people. Taylor says that the most important ingredient in a healthy partnership is communication.
As they listened, several common threads emerged. Women’s issues and domestic violence were recurring themes in the communities. Access to potable water and proper sanitation also were prominent concerns.
In addition, says Taylor, “Leadership training is really needed,” in health care, in church, and for teachers. UMCOR’s local partners are asking for empowerment through education. Those needs intersect well with UMCOR’s expertise and resources in the field of community-based primary health care.
Looking forward, UMCOR hopes to strengthen its partnerships with existing organizations that train and support community health-care workers. Salud Y Paz in Guatemala is a great example. This organization runs five clinics, one school, and a health promoter program in which a diverse group of women and men meet once a month to learn medical skills and practice public speaking. Then, they go into their communities with the goal of improving health through sanitation, nutrition, first aid, care for pregnant mothers, and family planning.
UMCOR already has approved a grant for this Amigos project through Salud Y Paz, and looks forward to a long and fruitful partnership.
To support UMCOR health projects in Latin America and around the world, give to UMCOR Advance 3020622.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.