Empowering Community Health Promoters
Health promoters from nine different communities in the Napo province of Ecuador stood on a line of purple duck tape with their eyes closed at Timmy Global Health’s newly constructed health center in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. One side of the line represented a behavior related to water, hygiene, and sanitation that they believed would be easy for their community to change and the other side represented a behavior that would be difficult to change. I read out loud, “We all need to wash our hands after using the bathroom” and counted to three. The nine health promoters jumped to either side of the line and opened their eyes, smiling and observing their classmates spread across one side or the other. Sensing the positivity and safety of the environment, the health promoters began to open up about the changes needed in their individual communities, the barriers they faced, and the ideas that they had in order to begin to enact these changes.
This activity served as the culmination of Timmy’s first capacity building workshop for the community health promoters in the Napo region. Over the summer I led weekly workshops with Timmy’s health promoters in order to strengthen their competence as leaders within their communities and help them build important skills such as organization, communication, and public speaking.
As an M.A. candidate in International Education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, I traveled to Ecuador this summer in order to pursue my interest in fostering community empowerment through education by engaging in an internship with Timmy Global Health. The impetus for these capacity building workshops was a result of the first-hand experiences of Timmy’s staff on the ground in Ecuador. They realized that Timmy’s health promoters had a great interest in improving the health of their communities, but they had never had the opportunity to attend formal trainings to further their skills as agents of community change.
Throughout the course of the summer, the response from the community health promoters was extremely positive; each workshop they vocalized their interest in continuing to develop their skills as health promoters. Though they felt challenged by the workshop activities that required them to think creatively, brainstorm in a group, or present in front of the class, they were very enthusiastic about the participatory nature of each session that provided them with a new way of learning. It was very exciting to see the progression of the health promoters’ skills and knowledge throughout the course of these workshops.
This project served as a pilot for a new Timmy Global Health initiative that strives to empower their health promoters to both develop the skills needed to be successful, but also to see the change that can result within themselves and their communities, as they transfer the knowledge that they acquire to their own communities and promote a cycle of empowerment.
This project is an important step forward for Timmy’s programs both here in Ecuador, as well as in all of its other global sites. As the project continues to grow, building the capacity of Timmy’s health promoters will underpin Timmy’s partnerships and continue to fortify the sustainability of its programming, as the strength of Timmy’s local partners is the key to the realization of its goals as an organization.
by Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson is an M.A. candidate in International Education at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. After having lived and worked in Ecuador for two years, Laura returned to the country this summer to serve as a Long Term Volunteer at Timmy’s program site in Tena, Ecuador. During her time in this position, she developed and implemented a pilot project to strengthen leadership, communication, and organizational abilities among Timmy’s Community Health Promoters.