For children, sleepovers are rites of passage. For SVH/ Ayni Wasi community coordinators, sleepovers in remote villages are a great way to build strong relationships with our promotoras (community health workers). Exchanging cultural customs, sleeping on alpaca furs, and sharing hot cups of boiled fava beans make cultural barriers dissolve into the Andean winter winds.
Last week, I spent two nights in Rayan and Marcuray, both 40-50-person communities in the Ollantaytambo District. At around 9,000 feet above sea level, Rayan is a steep eight-hour hike away from the nearest bus stop.
During my visit, the local promotoras led group discussions concerning the health creencias or beliefs of the general population. Through these informal chats—often held on a grassy patch overlooking the valley—we at SVH/Ayni Wasi can better understand the traditional remedies often used to treat problems such as wounds, headaches, and diarrhea.
Once we have a good grasp of the existing treatments used in the community, we can introduce treatments that are both natural and scientifically proven, like using arnica to reduce inflammation. We can also identify and discourage the use of substances that could potentially cause harm.
Rayan and Marcuray, though just a 30-minute walk from each other, are separated by a steep mountain ridge. Because of this physical barrier, the communities on either side differ in their opinions and knowledge of several crucial health issues. For example, the people we talked with in Rayan did not have any knowledge about family planning and were hesitant to discuss it, whereas those in Marcuray talked freely about contraception and STDs. Understanding local variations in knowledge enables us to tailor our curriculum for each community and teach what is truly needed.
We are grateful to work with caring and hospitable men and women who are happy to lay down alpaca furs for us to sleep and who feed us generous meals of their homegrown potatoes. Our partnership with and empowerment of promotoras as local health leaders enables SVH/ Ayni Wasi to continue to enhance knowledge and promote healthy practices in isolated mountain communities.
– Written by Community Coordinator Josselyn Agura