International Partnership Targets Health Gains in Perú
LOOKING FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Through the Arts for Behavior Change program, residents of a settlement on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, are taking part in developing solutions to health challenges in their community.
Thousands of people travel each year from rural villages of Perú and other Latin American nations to settle in Lima, Perú’s capital city. For many men, women and children, the journey ends in one of the densely populated settlements that sprawl across the barren desert landscape forming Lima’s northern, eastern and southern borders.
The homes are built from materials scavenged from nearby garbage dumps and landfills. The water is not sanitized, although it is used for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing clothes and cleaning. There is no sewage system. It is all too common for respiratory and diarrheal diseases to kill infants, children and the elderly.
A new international partnership developed by Canyon Ranch Institute (CRI) with The Clorox Company and Boston University is targeting these conditions through an innovative program that combines microbiology, social science and the arts. The Arts for Behavior Change (ABC) Program will involve the residents of the shanty towns in deciding how to solve their household hygiene problems. Including them in this way is a reminder of the often-quoted adage “Give a person a fish and there’s food for a day, but teach a person how to fish and there’s food for a lifetime.”
“With infinite needs in very poor communities,” says CRI President and Canyon Ranch Vice Chairman Dr. Richard H. Carmona, 17th U.S. Surgeon General, “it is tempting to try sweeping changes, such as installing a major water line. The reality is that even if clean water were available tomorrow, the residents still wouldn’t have the information to make the connection between good hygiene and better health.
“For lasting change, we must involve the residents and especially the women – who make the decisions about home and family.”
Local actors, who understand the culture of the community and havebeen trained by CRI about the science of household hygiene and diseaseprevention, present a performance in an open area where anyone can watchand participate.
Starting with music and dance to draw an audience, the actors thenpresent a play highlighting a health problem related to householdhygiene. As the story unfolds on the “stage,” the actors invite audiencemembers to join the extemporaneous discussion about potentialsolutions. By watching the play several times, organizers see whatsolutions are the most viable to the residents.
This arts-based approach has been used to advance health literacy andaddress numerous health challenges in African nations, Latin America and the United States. The ABC Program marks the first time that it isbeing used to address hygiene issues in the shanty towns of Lima.
The Peruvian government and other experts in public health, socialscience and the arts in Lima are collaborating to develop, implement andevaluate the ABC Program.
CRI Executive Director Jennifer Cabe further explains the importanceof the ABC Program. “We expect that what we learn in Lima willeventually be applied to communities around the world, including in theUnited States, where people are struggling to meet basic needs. Helpingall people advance their health literacy, prevent disease and livehappier, healthier lives is CRI’s mission and the reason for all we dohere at home and abroad.”