It is hard to know where to begin after spending two weeks in Santiago, Chile, and seeing first hand the incredible work that EPES (Popular Education in Health) has accomplished over the last 36 years. We are one of the supporting congregations of EPES and Karen Anderson who founded EPES 36 year ago with two Chilean women. Karen invited me to come to Chile and give healing touch sessions to her hard working staff as a way to care for them. She also asked that I give classes to health promoters and staff so they could learn healing self care techniques and also learn some simple techniques to provide healing for others in the community. I had to leave my comfort zone to embark on this journey and I am so glad that I did. My head is full of information and my heart is full with all of the welcome, love, trust, sharing of stories, and affirmation and support that I received.
There is no quick description of what EPES does but central to their mission is to recognize the worth and value in all people and help them to find their voice and power through education. This became clear in one woman who came to one of my classes. She described how she was feeling guilty as a mom because of her son’s illnesses and her lack of knowledge to help him. She was invited to come to a nutrition class at EPES. She came with low expectations but was then welcomed with such love and treated as an equal even though they didn’t know her. She found out that she wasn’t ignorant but that the opportunity to learn had not been there for her. Now she knows she has the tools for learning and a place where she and other women can learn. She has introduced major changes in the diet of her children and she also shares information in community training sessions and other activities.
In another nutrition related issue, I looked in on a class for nursery school teachers and health promoters where there was a demonstration about how much sugar is in everything with lots of colorful healthy nutrition information to go with the demonstration. The next step was to take the information to a booth in the open food market. The next weekend, there was a huge neighborhood project where the neighbors painted a mural on a long wall which depicted colorful healthy food and the processed foods to avoid. They concluded with a healthy meal for the community consisting of beans and rice and fruit and pitchers of water instead of big bottles of Coke.
Karen and I took a six hour bus ride to Concepcion where EPES also has an office. While there I visited the community in Penco. These people lost their houses in the earthquake in 2010. They lived in very temporary camps with poorly constructed homes made from wooden planks and roofs which were made of cardboard impregnated with tar. These were a health hazard. EPES provided new roofs and helped seal the drafty walls. (EPES also gave support in many other ways.) After four years they were thrilled to be able to move into new housing on a hill overlooking the ocean. They failed to realize the they were surrounded by the Forestry Corporation’s pine and eucalyptus plantations. Last summer there was a huge forest fire that came to the edge of their village. With great courage and persistence, the people were able to beat it back. EPES has worked with the community and provided a fire prevention and control course. One woman said that “we learned many things such as how to recognize threats against our community but also our strengths that would enable us to manage any kind of disaster.” As we were walking through the community, one woman said to me, ”I used to be quiet. Not anymore!!”
It was such a privilege for me to visit EPES and see firsthand the important work that they do. For 36 years, they have been unflinching in their support of the poor which at times has been at significant personal risk. Karen is an amazing leader who has hired a talented and highly committed staff. It was a gift to me to spend time with them and hear some of their stories. In the end, I did 21 healing touch sessions for the staff and presented four introductory healing touch classes to over 80 people which included staff, health promoters, healers and some church people. It was an honor for me to play a very small part in supporting the work of EPES. They deserve all of the support that they can get and I am so happy that Trinity can play a role in supporting EPES.