New ideas and energy flow between Chile and Haiti and beyond

January 27, 2011

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    Maxene, Karen and Kyle. Photo: maxenekakyle.jpg

We’ve just been cc’d into an email to Mercy Corps headquarters from Kyle Dietrich, director of youth programs for Mercy Corps in Haiti.

“This has been a tremendous and unexpected week,” writes Kyle. “Maxene and I have lots of ideas and a new energy for our challenging work.”

Kyle is writing from Chile, where he is attending the 2nd EPES International Training Course in Popular Education for Health. He is accompanied by Maxene Louisjean, a Haitian sociologist who works with Kyle on youth programs in Port Au Prince.

Kyle and Maxene are among 20 community activists from eight Latin American countries here in Santiago learning how to mobilize communities through popular education methodologies. Their presence here is greatly appreciated by all participants—they bring a depth of experience, perspective and knowledge that everyone admires and hopes to learn from.

EPES has nearly three decades of experience in developing such popular education tools as participatory diagnosis, peer-education and community mobilization from a human rights and gender perspective. EPES (Educación Popular en Salud/Popular Education in Health Foundation) was founded in 1982 (during the military dictatorship) to offer training, guidance, and support for community health groups. It has grown from a small, emergency-response team to a leader of community mobilizations to improve health services and awareness.

“Dignity, Empowerment and Equity” is the title of the 2011 EPES institute. This year, the course focused on “Rebuilding Dreams with Dignity” and EPES’ experiences of providing psychosocial and material support for rebuilding lives and communities in the wake of Chile’s February 27, 2010 earthquake.

“Congratulations to the EPES staff and community health monitors we've worked with this week.” Kyle writes. “Their work in Chile is 30 years in the making and is filled with a passionate network of self-empowered women using innovative community driven approaches to sensitize and mobilize communities.”

Maxene’s visit to Chile coincided with the first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. He was a social science teacher before the quake, and ran a national philosophy essay competition. His house is still standing but he’s afraid to live in it, and his family, including 11-month twins, has resettled far from the capital. “Haiti still looks like the earthquake just happened.”

In Chile, by contrast, earthquake/tsunami damage is now often hard to spot. The debris is largely gone, but vulnerability, fragility and destruction are hidden behind the shaky edifice of apparent reconstruction.

Mercy Corps began partnering with EPES immediately after the February 27, 2010 earthquake/tsunami. The US humanitarian agency and small Chilean NGO quickly implemented a large-scale emotional y support program based on MC’s Comfort 4 Kids and Hacia Adelante. EPES trained some 100 facilitators who reached 1,200 youthful residents of the devastated towns around the Talcahuano Bay. In workshops lasting up to 10 weeks in schools, churches, emergency shelters and community halls, children aged 6 to 14 told their stories and recovered their sense of security.

Kyle was also the featured speaker at the annual EPES Forum at University of Chile School of Public Health, where he presented an international perspective to the challenges of psychosocial interventions after disaster. The challenge in Haiti, he said is the ”absence of social networks” to sustain earthquake victims. EPES methodologies for community mobilization are a way “to improve our work in Haiti, and elsewhere.”