Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Finding a Cure with Culture

   It has been a week and I still cannot rid my mind of the conditions I experienced while carrying out my independent research within the Ngöbe community here in Coto Brus, Costa Rica. My research was focused on parasitic presence and species richness amongst migrant coffee plantation workers, and in order to test this, I had to collect fecal samples and administer surveys concerning the following: living conditions, available water sources, and hygiene practices. The living conditions on these coffee plantations I visited will remain in my mind for a while.
     I have just entered the room of some Ngöbe indigenous workers and I am overwhelmed by the sounds of running children, crying babies, and joking men and women. The smell and presence of smoke infiltrates my lungs and my eyes start to water as I prepare the fecal sample vials to hand out to our first study participant. These people are welcoming and willing to invite us into their home, and for this, I am lucky. As I look around the room I take in the lack of space and multitude of people that call this room home. The man whom we are interviewing has just told us that he lives with eleven people in a room fit for eight. The beds consist of a wire frame and wooden planks or cardboard for a mattress. Trash litters the floor and a single light bulb throws an eerie glow across the room. A beautiful little girl looks at me with a toothy grin on her face. She is tied off to a post on the bed on a leash in order to prevent her from tumbling to the ground. Her mother, only 19, smiles at this connection that the child and I have clearly made, and understands that I only mean well with the study that I have interrupted their evening schedule to do. A girl of only nine years old is seen in the corner stirring the Bache's dinner of rice and beans while the other children belonging to this Bache are running around excited to have gringoes (white people) in their home. This same scene is repeated over and over as me and my team move from room to room, farm to farm, town to town, and my heart hurts the same each time. Seeing these people living this way and leaving them each night without changing something about their living condition kills me and I wish there was something I could do to help.
     Interventions are a great tool and can be used to benefit a population in need, but too many interventions are done rashly and without preparation. While I wish I could have gone up to the plantation administrator and told him that he needed to treat these indigenous peoples as human beings, I knew that I wouldn't accomplish anything this way. Cultural sensitivity is a very important concept that gets overlooked a lot of the time when it comes to the implementation of new interventions. While I stood there in disbelief and felt helpless, I never once thought to ask these people if this was how they preferred to live. Maybe living together in close quarters is culturally sound, and using the outdoors to dispose of waste is the only thing they know. Maybe cooking over an open fire right outside their room is preferred over the use of a stove or enclosed kitchen. The want to help is key in creating and implementing an intervention, but the people in which you will be helping need to want to be helped. No intervention is worth the time and money if the people at the heart of the intervention aren't going to utilize the tools or new conditions supplied to them. I want to return one day, and I will, in order to not work to help these people, but to work alongside them to see where it is that they need help. Intervention success can only come from cultural sensitivity and a sense of community between the population in need and the hands that are willing to help.

Brianna Marino
Elon University Class of 2016
Exercise Science Major
Public Health Studies Minor
Sweet Signatures Vice President 
Zeta Tau Alpha Secretary

No comments: