Jambi Huasi: Providing Affordable Healthcare for All

Alberto Servín


December 30, 2010

For my GCY assignment in Ecuador I feel very honored to serve as a volunteer at a health clinic here in Otavalo. The place is called Jambi Huasi that means Health House in Quichua, an indigenous language of Ecuador. Jambi Huasi was created in 1984 by a private organization called Federación Indígena e Campesina de Imbabura (FICI, “Indigenous and Peasant Federation of Imbabura”). This was done in response to the lack of fair and affordable health care for the indigenous people of the Andean region of northern Ecuador. The organization is known for using both western and indigenous medicine in its clinic – preserving traditional medicinal customs and trying to find a balance between the two types of medicine. Staff services are diverse. They have a doctor, dentist, obstetrician, and nurse for western medicine, and also have a yachac (shaman) and several parteras (mid-wives) that provide traditional indigenous medicine treatments.

My two jobs at Jambi Huasi are being the arrival receptionist and running medical deliveries. As the receptionist, I greet patients, write up their medical information, deal with payments, and give them receipts they use to see the doctors. In the second job, I deliver medical samples (like blood, urine, and feces) to the nearby laboratory and deliver documents to the main city hospital.

At first, the three-language barrier caused me considerable frustration and exhaustion. But, over these last two months, I have settled in and find I can converse more easily with folks. Although the jobs are relatively straightforward, I have grown rather complacent and now seek to contribute more in my placement here in Ecuador. I have observed that there are days with very few patients thus leaving me with a lack of things to do. As I want to be of use here, I am exploring how to do my job better.  In discussion with my GCY program manager, she advised that I observe and determine if there are any problems or improvements that need to be addressed at the clinic. By doing that, I could see whether solving some of these problems could become an alternative job for me. The administrator at my work gave me the green light to proceed and bring forth my ideas.  With that in mind, I made a work plan to address these issues. My next step is to present possible solutions to the clinic director and administrator.

When drawing out these plans, I observed three issues. The first, I’ve already mentioned – having a low number of patients on any given day. For example, at mid-week we had an entire day where we received only five patients. The second thing I saw was the lack of awareness about Jambi Huasi and its mission. I met with locals in Otavalo to discuss the organization and many were unaware of its existence. Some thought it only dealt with indigenous needs. As part of Jambi Huasi’s mission is to provide alternative medicine choices familiar to indigenous peoples, a good number of the mestizo population didn´t understand they could also find treatment there. The third problem I noted came from the conversations I had with my host-family and neighbors in my community. They talked about the lack of convenient access to health care. Major issues regarding this are: discrimination, distance, transportation costs, and high prices at the hospitals and other health clinics.

Taking all this in mind, I planned one solution with three components to it. My proposal includes a continuous promotional and outreach campaign for Jambi Huasi. The first component includes planning promotional events in Otavalo and neighboring towns. This would include staffed information booths set up in plazas and having the doctors (both western and indigenous) do easy clinics for passerbys who are interested. We will give fliers with discounts for our services for people to come to Jambi Huasi. The organization did do one promotional event the first month I was here, but they haven´t done another since. So this plan would continue that idea and have it more frequently, like once every two weeks. I mentioned this to my administrator and he asked that I take responsibility for planning such an event in Otavalo during the month of January – so it looks like that´s a start to things.

The second component will be to make a video about indigenous medicine. The video will have footage of the indigenous doctors giving treatments to patients, and will have explanations for the types of treatments there are and what they do. It will be used in places like high schools and universities to explain and raise awareness of indigenous medicine – possibly inspiring students to take an interest in studying it, or visit Jambi Huasi to get treated in either form of medicine. The video can be offered to curious foreign visitors, too. Perhaps Jambi Huasi can collaborate with travel agencies or the government´s Ministry of Tourism to attract customers on a national and international scale. We have had foreign patients here that try indigenous medicine as a cultural experience. This could certainly help with needed income for the clinic.

The third component will be arranging visits to nearby indigenous communities to address the lack of convenient access to health care treatment. This will be accomplished by setting up a regular clinic day in a community or two. We will provide basic and essential treatments like a doctor, nurse, obstetrician, and indigenous doctors. Most likely this will be done once every two weeks in coordination with the promotional events. Arranging these visits will help address the issues of distance, discrimination, and transportation costs for the indigenous communities. I believe the three components will help Jambi Hausi establish a bigger presence in the community and draw in more patients.

Planning this project has given me a renewed sense of purpose and excitement I really like my job. With one project all ready to start, I will need to present the remainder of my proposed program to the director and adminstrator and seek their approval. Hopefully they will give me positive input and approval so I can map out the specific steps my organization and I need to take to accomplish these goals – like logistics and funding. Remembering what my program manager said, I´ve seen that setting aside my frustrations and learning to be more patient and observant has helped me see the big picture of what more I can do in my job. I am hopeful that our collective initiative will move forward.  Whatever the results are, and whether or not it will be successful, I look forward to learning from this experience. So stay tuned and watch us go!

Alberto Servín