Our focus here at ODIM is on building and maintaining quality health and education programs to serve the communities of San Juan and San Pablo La Laguna. Our primary projects are our 2 clinics, our dental clinic, health education programs and scholarship program. However most of our volunteers come down to work on constructing new homes, and won't see much of our other programs besides a short tour of our clinics. So it always felt to me that the construction of these homes is a bit disconnected from the rest of our mission to improve health and education. Interested in seeing the effect housing can I have on health, I decided to do some research into the subject.
A recent article published by NPR provided some incredible stastics. The first that stuck out to me is that just by switching from a dirt floor to a concrete one, there is a 78% reduction in parasitic infections. Gastro-intestinal illnesses are the number 1 killer in Guatemala, and are one of the most common issues we treat in our clinics. While we can give someone a medication that will kill a parasite, are we truly creating sustainable change if they go back to a living situation in which most likely they'll again become infected? The article, which drew information from a Mexican study in 2007, goes on to explain that switching from a dirt floor to a concrete floor, there is a a 49% reduction in diarrhea, an 81% reduction in anemia and a 36 to 96 percent improvement in cognitive development.
There are of course many other health issues that come into play with low quality housing: poor ventilation which can cause mold or respiratory illnesses due to smoke, a higher prevelence of anxiety and depression and the dangers of having a structually unsound home in a region prone to earthquakes and mud slides. We at ODIM see health as the foundation which allows someone to build a better life. At the core of that is a belief in the power of prevention to create better health outcomes. Perhaps one of the most powerful tools of prevention we have, is building clean, healthy and safe housing for those people most in need.
That's why we're so thankful to all our volunteers, be they medical or construction volunteers, for their hard work towards improving the lives of the people of San Pablo. Better health is not just something provided by medical professionals, but is something we can all work towards with something as simple as laying a concrete floor.
-Joel Enright, Volunteer Coordinator
Interested in bringing a construction or medical volunteer team to Guatemala? Please e-mail Joel at ODIM.VolunteerCoordinator@gmail.com