By Peter Alex Cook
This proposal is for the implementation of a public health project in the rural communities of the Mache Chindul Ecological Reserve, in Esmeraldas Province, Ecuador, which is part of the Choco-Manabi Bioregion. I am applying for Grants on the part of FONMSOEAM, a nonprofit federation of black and mestizo small-scale cocoa farmers from the Southwest of Esmeraldas Province, Ecuador. FONMSOEAM was created in the year 2000 and is currently constituted by over 300 members who comprise over 20 different communities in and around 120,000 hectares of primary virgin forest within this ecological reserve. FONMSOEAM has as its purpose the following objectives: to help connect its members to the international cocoa market in order for them to receive a better price for their product, to help its members receive and maintain organic and fair-trade certifications, to provide technical and environmental training to its members to grow their product more efficiently and environmentally-friendly, and to diffuse the money gained from the sale of cocoa into social projects within the communities that have to do with themes of public health, gender equality, education, and environmental awareness. It is important to note that the conservation of the biodiversity in this region is inextricably tied with the improvement of the quality of life of the people that live on these lands.
FONMSOEAM is currently receiving institutional support from Great Wilderness (www.greatwilderness.org), an American environmental conservation non-profit whose goal is to improve the quality of life of the members of the rural communities of FONMSOEAM. I am working as Great Wilderness project manager here at FONMSOEAM, organizing, among other things, environmental education seminars with the directors of the organization. With the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the people that live in this incredibly biologically important zone, it is hoped that the people will be able to better use their resources to preserve, protect, and maintain their land and the surrounding forests. To that end, the $50,000 grant would be used to create a self-sustaining public health initiative within the communities. Each community would elect a public health promoter (capacitating 30 community health promoters overall), to receive training in the detection and prevention of simple, but potentially disastrous medical complications such as diarrhea, malaria, and basic infections. Community health posts will be established in all of the satellite communities, and supplied with essential medical equipment and supplies to screen for a number of priority health problems that affect children, women and elderly populations in rural Esmeraldas to a disproportionate degree.
In addition, the Central Medical Center in Tonchigue, Ecuador, will serve as a focal point for the training and evaluation of the health promoters, and for community support and production of educational materials. It will also serve as a node for information exchange and the flow of resources to and from the Regional Ministry of Health. In addition, potable water filters would be installed in a few trial communities to begin implementation of a community-based potable water program. While the direct beneficiaries of this project would be around 300 people (the members of FONMSOEAM), indirectly this project could benefit over 1500 people, when considering the families of the members, and other non-affiliated people who live within the Mache Chindul who could benefit from the diffusion of health-related education within the reserve.
The southwestern part of Esmeraldas Province is one of the poorest regions in the country of Ecuador. The people that live in the zones that this project would target have an average yearly income of $670, far below the national per capita income of $1280. In comparison to the rest of the country, the people of the Mache Chindul have more than twice the rate of infant mortality (73 out of every 100,00 live births do not live past the age of 5 years old), and its population is growing at more than double the rate of the rest of the country. More than 60% of the rural populations of this province do not have access to such basic services as electricity, potable water, and sanitation facilities, and there are over 150,000 people in this region who are regularly exposed to tropical parasites and other potentially deadly diseases such as cholera and hepatitis. Despite a favorable regulatory environment toward protecting and promoting the health of the indigenous populations, problems still persist, and many basic health needs in the indigenous communities remain unmet. It could be said that this region of Esmeraldas Province is largely disconnected from the rest of the country economically, and has not been integrated successfully in the process of development that other areas of the country have enjoyed over the last few decades. It is for this reason a grant could be put to great use in an area where international assistance is needed most.
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