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As a farmer, Don Felix Barrera knows how to grow corn and beans and millet. Like many of the people in his farming and fishing community in El Salvador, he does not have any formal education or training in anything beyond the work he does every day to support and feed his family. And yet, Don Felix Barrera can organize his community in ways that a big city mayor would admire; most recently, he has mobilized everyone to get healthier with regular trips to AmeriCares Family Clinic in Santiago de Maria.
This community of “self starters”, located in the eastern part of the country, always shared the notion of the common good. That common bond led them to form their own organized community registered with the Association for Community Development (ADESCO). The Cucuruchos town (one of seven towns in the municipality of Nuevo Eden de San Juan) sits 800 meters above sea level and surrounded by the rivers Lempa, Manzano, and Cañas.
Now everyone in this hard-working community knows that staying healthy is a very serious matter. So Don Felix led his community to organize a regular “field trip” to better health; already they have visited the AmeriCares Family Clinic 8 times.
According to Google Maps, it should take one hour to reach the clinic from their town. It doesn’t take into account, however, that to get to the clinic they have to cross Rio Lempa, the country’s largest river, without a bridge.
The ferry crossing the Rio Lempa
Don Felix says, “It’s not an easy task – leaving behind one’s long list of things to do or handing them over to a family member in order to go to the clinic. It takes 3 hours to get there, and we have to travel by ferry in order to cross the Lempa River.”
At a scheduled date, the community travels by bus to the health fairs at the clinic. The clinic has been conducting community health fairs since 2005. Health fairs consist of educational topics, donation distributions like Hygiene Kits, and an opportunity for members to visit with doctors. To date, more than 260 communities in El Salvador participate in these health fairs.
“I am often asked ‘why travel so far to a clinic?’, said Don Felix, “and I respond that I like the care and quality of attention I receive. They really care about their patients.” He also added, “Through the health fairs, we receive hygiene kits or shoes, which contribute to the improvement of our health. We recognize the importance of health education and have found that it improves our quality of life.”
Since 2003, the Clínica Integral de Atención Familiar has provided quality health care, medications, and outreach services to thousands of underserved families in El Salvador. The clinic has begun to provide monthly training sessions for community health leaders focused on leadership skills and education techniques. Leaders like Don Felix that are passionate about helping their neighbors are now being equipped with the tools they need to become successful agents of change in their community.