Who we are
As we mark 40 years working for the right to dignified health for all, the EPES Foundation reaffirms the guiding principles that underpin all our work: solidarity, social justice, participation, equality, respect for diversity, gender equity, and the strengthening of the rights and capacities of women, respect for the right to health and human rights, and recognition of ancestral wisdom.
A Brief History
The Popular Education for Health (EPES, for its name in Spanish) organization was founded in Santiago in 1982, as a project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chile. Its objective was to foster community organization and participation on health issues in low-income communities in Chile. In 1983, its work expanded to the southern city of Concepción, with the challenge of working in two of the most densely populated cities of the country, both with a high incidence of poverty as well as an exemplary history of community organization and advocacy movements on health and social rights.
In 2001 EPES became an incorporated, independent non-profit. Four years later it founded Action for Health in the Americas (AHA), based in the United States, to contribute to the sustainability of its work in Chile.
The EPES Foundation forged a community-based strategy to promote preventive health from the perspective of rights, gender, and social determinants of health. At the core of all our actions are the principles and methodology of popular education, which materialize through an emphasis on training and guidance by staff and professionals who undertake participatory educational/organizational processes that recognize the knowledge and practices of participants, and the value of their memories and collective trajectories. From this base, promotional preventive actions shape processes to improve conditions and quality of life of communities, that define priorities, needs and context.
Throughout EPES’ institutional history, people and communities identify the issues that form the focus of their advocacy work. Over the years, the concrete work has addressed the protection and promotion of the right to health, the right to proper nutrition, and a life free of violence, in response to the specific needs expressed by women, people living with HIV/AIDS and the immigrant population.
Courses, workshops, schools, seminars and other educational spaces are the mechanisms through which EPES approaches preventive health, human rights, sexuality, healthy and sustainable nutrition, HIV/AIDS, gender violence, sexual abuse of children, leadership, participation, and participatory methodologies for assessments, planning, and evaluation, as well as designing community work strategies and adapting psychosocial support methodologies for children and women in emergency disaster situations.
Since its inception, EPES has undertaken collaborative work with community base organizations, and later, as social participation increasingly sought to influence public policy, it encouraged the formation of local, regional and national networks to address specific issues related to the environment, violence against women and children, and healthy sustainable nutrition. Consequently, the community work that our institution carries out articulates a strategy that hinges on community groups that are trained or guided, local inter-sector networks on specific issues, regional initiatives that articulate regional organizations with associative regional and national instances for public policy advocacy and watchdog activities.
To improve the health and lives of people and communities that live in situations of vulnerability, through participatory strategies of education, promotion, advocacy, and social mobilization with a special focus on gender and rights, respect for diversity and the environment.
Health, dignified life and universal respect for human rights for living well in harmony with the environment.
How is EPES sustained?
Since its beginning, the EPES Foundation has been sustained by funds from international cooperative agencies and interfaith and church groups. These economic resources have contributed to the development of triennial programs and annual projects.
EPES has always sought to diversity its funding sources. During the past 12 years, the organization increasingly has generated funds locally through the Public Market platform, consultancy, agreements and by participating in public bids. All these avenues have enabled it to work with the Health Ministry, the National Women’s Service (SRNAM), the National Physically Challenged Service (SENADIS), and other governmental entities.
Additional income come from local donations, renting the Concepcion building, the sale of educational games and other materials such as brochures and documents. In the last decade, an important financial source has been the Action for Health in the Americas (AHA), an NGO that EPES founded in the United States to publicize the foundation’s work and raise funds from individual donors to enable various educational projects in Santiago and Concepción.
The EPES Foundation upholds the right to nutrition and food sovereignty by promoting and carrying out actions that raise awareness, make visible and seek to shape public policy at the local and national levels, from the perspective of social determinants of nutrition, human rights, gender and agro-ecology. Our challenge is to go beyond the lifestyle focus and advance towards nutritional systems that are culturally relevant, in balance with the eco-system, that ensure the well-being of communities and territories.
The work centers on the implementation of four areas of action:
– Training and guidance of groups of women at the neighborhood and local levels.
– Foster and develop spaces for training and sharing knowledge such as workshops, production of educational material and community reflection.
– Provide support for designing, building, and guiding the development of educational community vegetable gardens.
As of the decade of the 90s, EPES incorporated the specific issue of violence against women and girls as part of its work in holistic preventive health and health advocacy. In 2000, we conducted the first research on couple violence, with the focus on sexual violence, seeking to influence public policy as well as assistance and prevention services. Backed by data, our strategy encompasses action at three levels: training staff and women from local organizations, training health care personnel and local educators, and networking to expand community awareness and mobilization concerning violence against women and girls.
During the social crisis arising from the pandemic, violence against women increased. The prolonged quarantines obligated women to remain at home, often in small spaces which they had to share with their aggressor. Mandatory restrictions on mobility meant household and caregiving work increased for working class women, limiting their ability to generate income.
The assessments undertaken together with women from organizations and neighborhoods of El Bosque, San Ramón, Hualpén, Penco, Talcahuano and Concepción understands violence as a multi-causal, structural phenomenon of a highly patriarchal, neoliberal and racist society. This set of circumstances points to the urgent need to support the strengthening of women’s ability to exercise the right to a life free of violence. In order to bring this about, EPES emphasizes training and updating of knowledge concerning gender violence, women´s shelters, human rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and self-care, thus broadening the scope of community action, to include dialogue on local wisdom, popular education and participatory assessment processes, to identify the many different expressions of inter-sector violence that affect women, girls and gender diversity. The approach also includes the creation of spaces for reflection concerning the caregiver crisis, weaving networks of support and making visible women’s collective caregiving initiatives.
Since 2019, EPES has undertaken initiatives that address the needs of the immigrant population, especially Haitians, who live in El Bosque. We have developed campaigns to promote immigrant health rights, to help build communities that are inclusive and welcoming, overcoming language and cultural barriers, within a framework of respect for human rights, while also taking into account gender inequalities.
This work has resulted in the compilation of considerable information at the local level about barriers that impede access to public health services for the immigrant population. Our efforts include education and know-your-health- rights initiatives for immigrants and the general population, as well as communicational strategies for making visible the living and health conditions of the immigrant population.
The project seeks to strengthen immigrant community organization and participation. With this in mind, we provide support for activities held by the Haitian immigrant organization UNHAPROCH (Unión para el Progreso de Haitianos en Chile) of El Bosque. Our work strives to strengthen territorial collaborations with institutional and municipal health care professionals, while also fostering linkages with regional and national immigrant and immigrant advocacy organizations to support advocacy, denunciation and mobilization actions for the right to immigrate.
Another area of work has been the production and distribution of educational and informational material about the right to health and related to the Covid-19 pandemic, produced in Spanish and Creole, aimed for the immigrant population and health care services. In order to ensure cultural appropriateness, a Haitian facilitator participated in the activity planning and translation of material.
In the complex context of political and social change, coupled with economic uncertainty and climatic threats, the EPES Foundation contributed from its experience in popular education to the task of strengthening the capacities of community organizations, working class women, and health teams to advance the promotion of the right to health, social rights and well-being in their communities.
The social movement that ignited in Chile in October 2019 changed the country’s political horizons. It opened the way to the constitutional process currently underway, to replace the constitution imposed in dictatorship in 1980. The new constitution will be drafted by a constitutional convention, elected by the people, characterized by gender parity and with representation from indigenous people. The majority of convention delegates agree that the government must guarantee the right to health, social rights, and human rights. Regarding health, they agree not only on the need for free access to health but also that health care must be dignified and timely.
EPES promotes participation and organization for health in working class sectors, community organizations, and social groups to enable people to exercise their rights to health, in the context of the pandemic’s impact on health and our social-economic well-being. Along these lines, it carries out the following initiatives:
a) Provides training and methodological guidance to health groups and organizations formed by EPES in Santiago and Concepción, in order to promote community action in health locally, support for developing their work plans and visibilizing their experiences.
b) Promotes reflection and self-care initiatives in mental health for community organizations.
c) Participates in local, regional and national social coalitions for the right to health.
d) Institutional reinforcement.
Over the course of the EPES Foundation’s 40 years of community education work, numerous disasters have impacted vulnerable sectors of the population. In the 1990s, floods affected low-income neighborhoods of Concepción, earthquakes and tsunami struck in 2010, forest fires ravaged communities such as Penco in 2017, and fires destroyed extensive areas of the densely populated hills of Valparaíso.
In the 1990s, floods affected low-income neighborhoods of Concepción, earthquakes and tsunami struck in 2010, forest fires ravaged communities such as Penco in 2017, and fires destroyed extensive areas of the densely populated hills of Valparaíso. In each and every one of the situations mentioned above, poverty, houses built at inadequate places such as wetlands, overcrowded conditions, houses in close proximity of pine and eucalyptus tree plantations (mono-cultivations), water scarcity, and the lack of social security magnified the impact of these disasters.
EPES strengthens the resilience of community organizations’ capacity for coping with natural disasters and the effects of climate change, by developing strategies for training and promoting popular participation.
Chile is one of the countries most affected by the disasters arising from climate crisis. The lack of water, a crisis in food and livestock production, landslides and as an earthquake-prone territory are some of the factors that make it especially susceptible to such catastrophes.
EPES has extensive experience in addressing emergency needs in a participatory manner, together with the population directly affected by the situation. It also has promoted community participation in the process of acquiring, distributing and public accountability for resources appropriated for disaster support actions.
EPES supported efforts by vulnerable communities in northern and central-southern Chile affected by disasters to organize. The key factor involved concrete actions for addressing problems related to health, provision of basic needs, protection of temporary housing after earthquakes, as well as the effects on mental health, caregivers’ crisis in families and communities.
EPES is a member of ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together), an international interfaith organization that brings together more than one hundred aid and development organizations, backed by churches.
Guided by the concept of Communications for Social Change, this department’s work is coherent with the educational transformation and health right protection focus that is at the heart of EPES, promoting the organization and construction of collective and community alternatives for well-being.
The EPES Update is produced twice a year (May and November) in English. Usually produced in both print and digital formats, it provides an overall summary of EPES’ work, with brief articles about various projects underway, personal testimonies of community leaders and other people, along with photographs of the different activities.
The EPES Update is shared with hundreds of people and ELCA Lutheran congregations of the United States and Canada that support its work. It is also sent to Global MinistriSoes (United Church of Christ) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States.
Each Update highlights the strategic lines of EPES and its work for justice, dignity and health, while also publicly thanking friends who have accompanied us along this path during so many years. During the pandemic we produced the series “Stories of Hope and Resistance” (also in English) regarding specific projects organized by EPES to benefit various communities affected by the socio-health crisis.
Cooperative partnerships have led to joint programs and research projects, community actions for the right to health, training sessions, campaigns, humanitarian aid and political advocacy.
EPES currently participates in the following networks and partnerships.
Community Training Center
The EPES Foundation’s Community Training Center offers training courses based on the development of community strategies for promoting organization and participation, in order to improve quality of life and health. Course contents include the Social Determinants of Health, Health and Gender Rights. Course methodology draws from principles of popular education.
The courses are geared for primary health professional staff, municipal employees, and employees of public and private agencies who work in communities locally. They are designed as part of training processes that complement, improve, and/or update knowledge and skills to better equip professionals for community interventions in health and health care systems that incorporate participation.
Courses held for governmental agencies
The EPES Foundation has held training sessions and consultancy through cooperative agreements and public bids, for various governmental agencies: Health Ministry, National Service for Women (SERNAM), National Service for People living with Physical Disabilities (SENADIS), Health Services of Chiloé, North and Central Metropolitan Regional Health Services
Since 2014 it has held 23 courses for a total of 745 participants. The courses may be held in any region of Chile.
Technical experience in designing Health Ministry material
EPES has participated in public bids and collaborative agreements with the Ministry of Health, designing material and publications that are distributed nationally:
- Production, design and validation of 13 brochures on different subjects and for the Ministry of Health´s Second Survey on Life and Health Quality (ENCAVI, Encuesta de Calidad de Vida y Salud). The latter featured information about each region of the country in a format that is appropriate for community organizations throughout the country (2007).
- Production, design, and validation of 6 brochures on different subjects related to the Second Survey on Life and Health Quality (ENCAVI), for community health organizations nationally. The brochures provide information about childhood, adolescents, senior citizens and workers (2007).
- Developed the “Manual de trabajo Comunitario para Postas de Salud Rural” (Manual on Community Work for Rural Emergency Health Stations) to support a process that strengthened community participation in rural areas, undertaken by the Ministry of Health. The program provided training in participatory community work for more than 100 technicians and paramedics at rural health emergency stations in Regions IV, VI and VII. The manual included conceptual and technical tools pertinent for addressing issues such as health promotion and social determinants of health, participatory planning, community educational actions, and development of community programs.
- Development of communty health agent profiles for incorporating as part of Community Family Health Centers (Centros Comunitarios de Salud Familiar, CECOSF) nationally. It included the production of a manual for family clinic staff, entitled “Manual de apoyo a la incorporación de agentes comunitarios en salud en los equipos de los CECOSF” and training of 95 people, community health agents, and CECOSF coordinators throughout the country (2016-2017).
The EPES Foundation has a team of skilled professionals in Santiago and Concepción, who have vast experience in conducting training for professional health teams.
Course: Leadership, Participation and Community Work
In 2020 the EPES Foundation and Coady International Institute, founded in 1959 by Universidad St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, established a partnership to offer the course “Leadership, Participation and Community Work“ to women leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2021, the first course was carried out in an online format.
The course is designed for Latin American women who have led and/or actively participate in organizations of communities, students, indigenous people, grassroots educators, feminists, rural and urban community leaders, as well as social activists. What all have in common is that they work to transform realities that violate the rights of their communities.
More than 40 women leaders, from Colombia, Chile, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Haiti have participated in the courses.
EPES and Coady strive to create a space for learning, reflection and analysis that can strengthen women’s capabilities in key issues of social formation and community work, from the focus of gender and human rights. They also seek to foster the construction of networks that empower the capacities, skills and participation of women in public life.
Course contents include sessions and spaces for sharing leadership experiences of women on the community level.
The format is that of participatory seminars and sessions on topics such as “Popular education, gender and feminism,”
“Trajectories and challenges of the women and feminist movements in Latin America,”
“Working from strengths to leadership,”
“Leaderships and community change,”
and “Communicational tools and skills for effective leadership.”
At the conclusion of each course, participants present a project that identifies the ways in which what they learned can be applied in designing a program or activity for their work team or community.
International Training Program
Every year since 2010, the EPES Foundation has held its International Training Program for Popular Education in Health, whose slogan is “Learn by doing to promote and expand the right to health.” This Course on Participatory and Community Strategies for Health has trained 205 individuals from 25 countries of Latin America and Africa. Participants have been students, health care professionals, social workers, social science and humanities, popular educators and teachers, church workers and social activists.
Participants from Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, United States, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Canada, Haiti, Nicaragua, Kenya, Madagascar, Cameroon, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Senegal have returned to their respective communities equipped with new knowledge and skills that strengthen their work. The skills they learn also enable them to train new members of their communities in popular education methodologies so as to expand participation and social organization for living well.
The transformational education model EPES has developed over the course of its 40 years have contributed to materializing dreams, making utopias a reality, and sowing hope for change in three continents.
In rural villages of Kenya, groups of community health promoters were formed after members of the Hope Foundation for African Women (HFAW) and community women participated in the fifth International Training Program, held in Santiago and Concepción, in 2014. Ever since, EPES has carried out an enduring consultancy work, guiding and accompanying the organization.
Educational Resource Center for Action
CREA is a friendly space of the EPES Foundation which offers, free of charge, access to a library on Popular Education for Health, that includes: educational games, books, magazines, brochures, a photographic and audiovisual file. Its collection reflects the Foundation’s areas of concern and dates from the 1980s.
Methodological guidance in the use of the educational games and certain participatory tools is another service offered by CREA. It also provides support in planning and materials for carrying out community actions on health.
Over the course of 40 years, CREA has become the archival registry of cumulative experiences and knowledge, built together with the community. The major issues contained in its collections are: popular education for health, community health, training, community training and education, gender violence, human rights, sexual and reproductive rights, women, tobacco consumption, community organizations, nutrition and food sovereignty.
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