Canyon Ranch Institute

International Partnership Targets Health Gains in Perú

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 have been trained by CRI about the science of household hygiene and disease prevention, present a performance in an open area where anyone can watch and participate.

Starting with music and dance to draw an audience, the actors then present a play highlighting a health problem related to household hygiene. As the story unfolds on the “stage,” the actors invite audience members to join the extemporaneous discussion about potential solutions. By watching the play several times, organizers see what solutions are the most viable to the residents.

This arts-based approach has been used to advance health literacy and address numerous health challenges in African nations, Latin America and the United States. The ABC Program marks the first time that it is being used to address hygiene issues in the shanty towns of Lima.

The Peruvian government and other experts in public health, social science and the arts in Lima are collaborating to develop, implement and evaluate the ABC Program.

CRI Executive Director Jennifer Cabe further explains the importance of the ABC Program. “We expect that what we learn in Lima will eventually be applied to communities around the world, including in the United States, where people are struggling to meet basic needs. Helping all people advance their health literacy, prevent disease and live happier, healthier lives is CRI’s mission and the reason for all we do here at home and abroad.”


Canyon Ranch Institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit public charity. To learn how you can support CRI, please visit canyonranchinstitute.org