What’s the word?

“How did you spread the news about our health campaign?” asked one of the SUNY Brockport volunteers that came to Peru two weeks ago. I smiled and said, “Well, by foot.”

Communication can be challenging in the communities we serve. Many promotoras and their neighbors don’t have cell phones, nor do their communities have cell phone coverage. However, people find other ways of spreading messages. Radio announcements are an example of this. You will often see men working in the fields or grazing their cows while carrying radios around their necks.

It seems there’s a tradeoff between beauty and cell phone coverage in the community of Pilcobamba.

I arrived in Peru two months ago, and can report that word-of-mouth communications is alive and well in the Sacred Valley. During my first week on the job as a community coordinator, I hiked two hours up to Pilcobamba to remind a promotora who I support, Luzmila, to come down for the training the next day. After waiting an hour for her in front of her house, I told all of her neighbors, including the community’s president, “pasa la voz”—send the message—about the training. The message was relayed.

Promotora Luzmila speaks with her fellow community members about the services she’s trained to provide as a promotora.

I find that there is an element of accountability that is reinforced when receiving a message from an actual human interaction as opposed to an email. Can you think of the last time you ignored an announcement from your work email? Or ignored a friend via text message?

The promotoras use their relational currency to spread health information. House by house, assembly by assembly, their knowledge is being spread through word of mouth.  I feel proud of our work here not only because we put in plenty of elbow grease, but because there is beauty in the fact that our message is reinforced by relationships in the context of communities.

Luzmila educates her community members about the dangers of smoke inhalation.

–Written by Michelle Shin

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