What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
Concern America’s Health Promoter Practitioner model did not come into existence through a single, defining moment, but rather from years of accompanying communities in Latin America that lacked access to quality health care and a voice in advocating for the minimal care they were able to receive. How does one develop a functioning, primary health care system in an area where neither government nor private solutions are possible in the foreseeable future? How can local people, even those with only a few years of formal education, be engaged in the provision of their own health care and the creation of a local health system that is directly based on their needs? These were the questions faced by Concern America in the early 1980s as it accompanied Guatemalan refugees living in camps in Mexico and Salvadoran refugees in camps in Honduras, all with a serious lack of access to health services.
It is during this period that Concern America began training community members to provide primary health care in the refugee camps. Then, as the Guatemalans and Salvadorans returned to their home countries when the peace accords were being signed in each country in the 1990s, Concern America continued health trainings in the new communities that they were creating and/or returning to. Simultaneously, Concern America field personnel remained in Mexico and Honduras and worked with existing communities in those countries that were also faced with a severe lack of health care and other services.
By the mid 1990s, the Concern America Health Promoter Practitioner model had taken shape. Since that time, Practitioner training has expanded throughout most of the indigenous communities of Chiapas, Mexico, the entire area of Petén, Guatemala (that country’s largest department), and northwestern Colombia, where there continues today to be a serious civil conflict taking place. Currently, the “defining moments” of Concern America’s Practitioner model are making it available worldwide through the writing of the training manual, and the expansion of the organization’s training and accompaniment to include Rwanda.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
Concern America carries out all of its work in a collective manner, and each field project is formed as a cooperative effort among the local communities and community members/patients, community-based organizations, the Concern America field personnel, and the organization’s home office staff. Utilizing this model, the Health Promoter Practitioner model grew out of years of training and accompanying local, lay health care providers, revising the curriculum and training materials, working with the Practitioners in their communities, and eventually creating a solid, four-year training program that has proven effective in North, Central, and South America.
It is worth further highlighting here both the field personnel (1) and the local community members/leaders (2) as key “innovators” in the work of Concern America:
(1) The work of Concern America “on the ground” is carried out by its FIELD PERSONNEL, all of who are “volunteers” (doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, mental health professionals, etc.) who serve under contract for a basic monthly stipend ($550/month), health insurance, and an annual trip home. There are, on average, 20 volunteers in Concern America’s field projects, each working with approximately 25 villages; these field team members or “volunteers” organize and do the work of the field programs/projects and maintain good relationships and coordinate their work with local institutions with which the organization partners. In addition, each “volunteer” has 5-10 Concern America-trained trained local community members who collaborate in the work.
(2) Concern America’s work around the world helps to form new COMMUNITY LEADERS and introduce transformative processes both for the individuals and the community/region where they live and work. There are wonderful examples of hundreds of such leaders that have emerged through Concern America projects, most of whom volunteer to be Health Promoter Practitioners, literacy teachers, HIV/AIDS prevention activists, etc., despite their own lack of formal education or experience. The presence of Concern America in their communities has enabled them to cultivate their gifts of leadership and service: where non-formally educated women have become mayors of their communities or presidents of artisan cooperatives; where family farmers have become Health Promoter Practitioners and lead health committees or become teachers in an indigenous education system that has been locally created; where these same local leaders have now been invited to support community development efforts on a regional and international level, and are even teaching U.S. health students and professionals (nursing, medicine, midwifery, etc.) through Concern America’s International Health Immersion Program. In the long term, leaders like these provide life-saving services in their communities while building trust among villagers and working to change the structures that created the poverty and poor health in the first place.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Through another organization or company
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