One of the coolest things that we get to do is a baseline survey and mapping project. This project is one of my favorites for a number of reasons:
1) We get to meet a member of just about every household in our community. We go to every house, mark a GPS point, and interview the family who lives at that house. Often we are offered various tokens of hospitality: potatoes, chicha (a corn based drink), choclo (steamed corn), or eggs to list a few. On one famous day I ate cuy (the Peruvian national dish – guinea pig) three times. Without fail, we are received with hugs and handshakes and it is always a joy to be welcomed.
2) The day is a huge day for each new promotora (community health worker) – she accompanies us for interviews in her community. Social capital is a truly big deal in these small and tightly-knit communities, so the day clearly and powerfully demonstrates her importance.
3) Mapping projects have historically been powerful public health tools. Has anyone heard of the Broad Street map? Back in 1854 there was a cholera outbreak in London. Dr John Snow decided that a map would be a great way to track what was happening, and he noticed something interesting – most of the cases were clustered in an area surrounding a water pump on Broad Street. Armed with this information he decided that the pump must be a causative factor in the outbreak. Thus the use of maps in public health was born. We will give each promotora a map of her community and will create an easy-to-use system to record which families are getting what illnesses and where they live. The maps will enable us to see, for example, which families are getting more diarrhea and which water sources they use, or if the families who eat more corn, potato, and bread are more susceptible to stunting than those who include more protein and other nutrient-rich foods in their diets.
4) A day of mapping means a day full of walking around some beautiful landscapes. While not directly associated with the work, one must never forget the fringe benefits.
We finished mapping 3 communities today, and have two more to go in the same area. Of course the days are long, but at least they are pretty!