I just finished reading (fine, skimming) “Culture and Public Health,” which is a series of essays on how culture affects development work, specifically in the realm of public health. An easy concept for an Anthropology major to grasp. As I was reading though, I realized that to the individual writers, development was an academic field of inquiry. Although I’ve taken a course on development, it was a mere introduction and this collection of essays took a more “zoomed-out” perspective. Here, I am in Guatemala, supposedly working as a development worker. I know how I am taking culture in account – I consider how I dress, speak, do my hair, when/where I go by myself and more, but I am focused on a much smaller level. If I can manage to improve the health of one person (through behavior change), I will consider myself successful (and since I’m a vegetarian in site, I can say that I’m already on a start – I’ve been introducing the health educators at my health center to eating raw vegetables!). I realized that as a PCV, the “thing” I have to offer, is my time; that is the commodity with which I’m equipped. I don’t have vaccinations or drought-resistant seeds, but two long years of platicas and leading by example. This realization, or perspective, made me appreciate the PC structure and approach.
Then again, this approach terrifies me. Today, I accompanied one of the health educators as he visited some mothers in town and reminded them that their kids should be brought to the health center to receive vaccines – a polio vaccine if I’m not mistaken. As we went from home to home, I saw some different definitions of home. From overflowing pilas and open air showers to roaming roosters and crawling babies on dirt floors, I started to think if my two years here would even make a dent of a difference. In one home, an elderly woman (she looked so cute, I just wanted to give her a hug) was washing her huipil on a rock that was part of the path that led inside her house. The water she poured to rinse soap out just flowed into the sewer pathway on the side of the road. The idea of trying to wash something, of trying to make it clean just didn’t fit with the floor and proximity to te sewer. I’m not trying to force my Western notions of cleanliness (some of which I don’t even abide by – who needs a shower everyday, anyway?), but that just boggled me for a moment.
How can one person change such ingrained behaviors, let alone make a measurable difference? There are already so many aspects of health I’d want to focus on – from teenage self esteem and sexual education to healthy eating and hygienic food preparation. I actually cannot imagine what I will feel like in two years.
The upside is that the health educators tried my raw snow peas and cucumbers. They’re fans.