In Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Doctors for Global Health works in partnership with El Centro Popular de Apoyo y Formación para La Salud (CEPAFOS- The Community Center for Health Training and Support). Born out of Bishop Arturo Lona Reyes’ vision to respond to the needs of indigenous and peasant communities, his efforts gave rise to a grassroots movement of community health workers, and CEPAFOS was the result.
For over two decades, CEPAFOS has provided greatly needed health services to the marginalized populations of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, recovering ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants and natural therapies, and organizing and training groups of health promoters throughout the diverse regions of the Isthmus. Ongoing health promoter training takes place in 6 geographic regions, with over 150 health promoters.
There is also a medical clinic in the city of Tehuantepec which offers allopathic medical care integrated with indigenous medicines and therapies such as massage and acupuncture. Local traditional knowledge of medicinal plants was once well established in the various indigenous communities of the region, and CEPAFOS serves as a support center to sustain and advance this knowledge. Over 70 herbal preparations made from native plants with medicinal qualities are used for health and healing purposes.
The promotion of traditional healing practices as natural and inexpensive alternatives to conventional medicine is the cornerstone of the vision of CEPAFOS to empower communities to strengthen their own wellbeing, and embodies the mission to put “la salud en manos del pueblo”. Currently under construction is a therapeutic garden of medicinal plants at the grounds of the CEPAFOS clinic in Tehuantepec, with plans to build two outdoor classrooms and a temazcal “sweat bath”, as well as a walking path for guests and community members. The garden will be a living classroom, for traditional indigenous health practices to be protected, understood and expanded.
Health promoter training: The approach and philosophy of CEPAFOS as a center for support and training in health is to serve communities through health promoter training and sharing of cultural knowledge. CEPAFOS addresses not only specific disease states, but also the individual, social, and economic factors that affect health. Health promoters are all chosen by their communities to be leaders in health. CEPAFOS supports the full autonomy of each community and provides this by using a model of community accompaniment. A rigorous training curriculum is combined with tools to address social needs. Health promoters that continue training can move on to be “multipliers” that then teach other communities and organize locally. The results are communities that are empowered to respond to the many threats to healthful ways of life with dignity and strength.
Therapeutic garden of medicinal plants: This project, currently a work in progress, aims to expand the use of medicinal plants for the health and healing of local communities in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The goal is to train health workers on use of native plants for medicinal purposes, and to assist in cultivating medicinal gardens in local communities. The garden also serves broader educational, ecological and cultural purposes, raising awareness throughout the region about the medicinal properties of plants and preserving native seeds and species. Patients, community members, and visiting health workers will be able to learn about these native plants as they walk on quiet garden paths. A bank of plants and seeds native to the region is currently being established for the preservation of knowledge and for communities to use to cultivate gardens.
Recommended Reading: Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Rebellion in Oaxaca, Diana Denham, CASA Collective; Zapotec Renaissance, Howard Campbell; No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy, Wendy Call.