Peruvian Leaders Guide Their Communities to a Just and Healthy Life

 {Photo credit: Benjamín Balarezo/MSH}Community leaders and authorities participate in first module of program for Moral Leadership and Community Management.Photo credit: Benjamín Balarezo/MSH

For many communities in Peru, the cultivation of illegal coca for drug trafficking, far from bringing prosperity, has only brought them fear and instability, an eroding community, and caused serious health problems primarily affecting women and children. This dark landscape is now changing for 41 rural communities in the Huanuco and Ucayali regions, who, in 2012 signed an agreement with the Peruvian government to stop growing coca.

Thanks to a partnership between the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs (DEVIDA), this shift began in July 2013 when the Healthy Communities and Municipalities II (HCM II) project, funded by USAID and led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), began its intervention in 41 post coca eradication communities and 2 other communities nearby: 26 in the valley of Monzon in the region of Huanuco, and 17 in the districts of Padre Abad and Irazola in the region of Ucayali. The goal of HCM II is to improve maternal, child, and family planning and reproductive health through the HCM methodology—which promotes a range of healthy practices.

The challenge? Training local leaders in health-minded community development.

The HCM methodology is comprised of a guide for prospective program managers, which teaches managers and leaders about the value of health promotion. Program managers are equipped with instructions for application, as well as toolkits with health monitoring tools and leadership development programs. The tools are implemented at the family, community, and municipal/district levels to increase community leadership and healthy practices and to encourage behavior change, which is measured through community assessment.

To address these leadership and health behavior challenges in communities throughout Peru, the project implemented the Program for Moral Leadership and Community Management (PLMGC in Spanish) to build the capacity of local leadership and management authorities in a style of leadership based on community values.

In February, 2014 the PLMGC began in the regions of Huanuco and Ucayali, where authorities and leaders from 41 communities participated. Through five month-long modules, participants addressed the values of democracy, solidarity, trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, and respect. In addition, they were trained on the use of and application of various community management tools.

Each module had two parts: a one day tutorial and an additional day of putting lessons into practice. Activities during the rest of the month included the whole community. In practice, authorities then implemented the community management tools to encourage local participants to think about their vision of a healthy community and their local history, to develop a tree of dreams, and to perform a community diagnosis and action plan. They also recorded and tracked data on maternal and child health and encouraged families in their communities to be “Healthy Families”.

These HCM trainings help support those trainings also provided to families by DEVIDA, which encourage communities to adopt the cultivation of coffee, cocoa, and bananas in place of coca cultivation.

The result

As a result of PLMGC, 211 community leaders graduated: 48 percent men and 52 percent women. Additionally, 41 of the 43 communities have successfully implemented their community management tools for Healthy Communities, and local families have been working toward becoming Healthy Families. The result? Communities and homes are cleaner, the practice of community values is encouraged, and families are adopting overall healthy behaviors, which contribute to improving their health and strengthening the social capital of their communities.

Says Eduar Martín Solorzano, a leader in Palo Wimba in the Monzón valley:

With the PLMGC I learned how to be a democratic leader, to understand and listen to each member of my community.   I learned that without any change we cannot accomplish anything.  Now our challenge is to stop the delay with a new vision: To have a healthy community with healthy families.

Without a doubt, these communities are now more optimistic about their futures: having healthy communities and families, and living a just and healthy life.