Community involvement key in Venezuela programmes

Published: 27 August 2003 0:00 CET

Cristina Estrada in San Felipe

“I have learned a lot,” says Beatriz, who lives in Recta de Apolonio, a land occupation on the outskirts of San Felipe, capital of Yaracuy province. “I learned how to deal with an institution, how to defend myself and to talk to people. Wherever I go I introduce myself as a community promoter”.

She says that “change is in the air” in her poor neighbourhood. “People have started to take care of their homes and now they recollect the garbage. They have become aware”, she adds.

The Venezuelan Red Cross (CRV) decided to initiate its Community Education Programme for Disasters Preparedness in Recta de Apolonio because of the frequent risk of flooding after heavy rains. But when CRV volunteers asked people in the neighbourhood what their priorities were, the unanimous answer was health, and so health – be it primary health care, first aid, or hygiene in the home - now forms an integral part of the programme.

“This programme tries to channel the needs of the communities with the health centres, with which important alliances have been built,” says the coordinator of the programme, Krisbel Morillo.

Recta de Apolonio, a community of about 700 families, has enormous water problems – there is usually not enough of it, and what there is is stored in unhygienic cisterns. The health centre is located far away so the Red Cross-supported Community Home provides services like an oral re-hydration unit. A second unit will be opening soon. “Our idea is to open four in total, one in each sector of the community”, explains Beatriz.

In addition to being a training centre, the Community Home has little by little extended its range of services. It now does HIV prevention work with those at greatest risk – young people aged between 14 and 28 years, though that may need to be revised, given the presence in the community of 13-year-old mothers. From Monday to Friday, the Community Home is also serves as a social dining room for the elderly.

In this community, there exists a high rate of violence. On several occasions training courses have had to be cancelled due to insecurity. “It made it hard to involve people in the project,” Krisbel says. The project has been successful because, by word of mouth, people have learned about the existence of a focal point whose doors are open to the entire community.

“People come and go when they want,” Beatriz says proudly. The work, supported by the Red Cross, is developed by ten women health promoters, co-ordinated by Beatriz.

“The success of the programme depends on the commitment of the community and the way it makes the project its own,” emphasises Magda Pinilla, the Federation’s regional disaster preparedness delegate.

She says the project goes beyond raising awareness about disaster preparedness and community health. It gives people hope, teaching them that with better organisation, they can go some way towards solving their problems. For example, after obtaining a sewage network system for their community, the people of Recta de Apolonio have asked the municipal authorities to build a water tank to improve access to clean drinking water.

“There are some non-measurable indicators. Through this programme the people have begun to take control of their life and their rights,” Pinilla says. “At Brisas de Yaracuy, a nearby community, for example, the women have become aware and are registering their children, since most children in these communities are not legally registered.”

In total, some 1,500 people in seven communities in the provinces of Yaracuy and Caracas benefit from the CRV Community Education project. Currently it is the only programme in Venezuela that combines disaster preparedness and community health.

“At the beginning, we worked only from the disasters preparedness point of view, but we realised that all the risk maps always contain health elements,” explains Krisbel Morillo.

The project has now been running for a year and although its current financing is finishing, the Venezuelan Red Cross plans to continue supporting the work of Beatriz and her partners, says Amalia Farias of the CRV’s national projects technical office: “They have assumed the responsibility and we support them”.

Related links:

Venezuela: appeal, updates and reports
Venezuelan Red Cross
Disaster preparedness
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