Jambi Huasi

Jacob Stern - Ecuador

February 13, 2012

February marks my sixth month in Ecuador, and I still haven’t posted something about my work. I guess that’s been a little difficult to describe because I’ve bumped around doing three different things. But here’s one of them:

Main apprenticeship: Jambi Huasi: Intercultural Health Center (October – April). I work Monday-Thursday: working at the receptionist desk, translating documents into English, taking vitals like blood pressure, working on promotional activities in the streets in Otavalo, and helping them design a website.

Jambi Huasi is a grass-roots health center that provides ancestral and modern medicine to the indigenous population of Otavalo. It has been the first intercultural health center in Ecuador since 1984. Today Jambi Huasi is sustainable, and charge fair prices for all health services and drugs.

Jambi believes that patients can only be treated in their social and cultural context. Historically, indigenous wouldn’t go to hospitals because they found them scary and this population only spoke Kichwa (the indigenous language of Ecuador). Women preferred to give birth in their homes, and patients couldn’t understand how to follow prescriptions.

In the past five years, things seem to have gotten a lot better here in Ecuador. Health care is given free by the state, our local hospital pays traditional midwives to work alongside obstetricians, and they recently installed a traditional delivery room where women can give in birth vertically. And I have yet to meet a young person from a community who doesn’t speak Spanish.

Nonetheless, much still needs to be done. For example, birth control—when people decide to use it—is always a woman’s responsibility. People continue to have kids by the dozen when possibly they can’t not always afford them. There is children’s malnourishment, communities that are not attended to, water can be undrinkable, and some people still don’t trust the hospital.

This is new stuff for me. I never thought I’d be interested in medicine —I almost got C’s in biology and chem in high school, and even though I still don’t intend to be a doctor, here I am with these questions: how is it possible to introduce the use of contraceptives into a culture that rejects them? How to give medical attention more effectively in communities? And in communities, how to create trust in hospitals and modern medicine?

Click here to see a video I made about a Jambi Huasi community visit (with subtitles!): A Jambi Huasi Community Visit

Jacob Stern