Introduction to the new study communities

Posted on February 7, 2012

Community meeting

During the last year I was in Paraguay, I was working exclusively in two study communities.  Both were Nivacle communities, but one was more integrated with the outside world (it was accessible by public transportation and home to a church mission, hence I nicknamed it ‘Integrationville’), and one was more isolated and difficult to access (hence I nicknamed it ‘Isolationville’).  The research I’m doing in these communities is pretty comprehensive: censusing, ethnographic interviewing, surveying, structured observing, anthropometric measuring,fecal sampling, and cheek swabbing.  I can get a lot of information out of this in-depth comparison, but it is  just a comparison of two communities and I won’t be able to generalize my findings to the larger Chaco region.

I am really looking forward to this field season because I will get a chance to survey four more indigenous communities in the Central Chaco.  Two of these communities are Angaite (they speak Guarani), one is Enhlet, and the last is Nivacle (like my original research communities).  They are all more accessible than than my original research communities, but they have varying degrees of institutional support.  One community doesn’t yet have electricity.  Two are part of the Mennonite cooperative that supports indigenous communities.  And I haven’t confirmed this, but I think the majority of residents in these new communities belong to a different religious organization than in my original study communities.

The research I do in these communities won’t be as in-depth – it is a shorter, anonymous survey that I will be doing in just some of the households – but it will give me a lot more breadth.  My collaborators at CEDIC have been running projects on Chagas disease in these communities for the last 5 years, and I’m going to coordinate with them so that my study on tuberculosis complements the work their interdisciplinary team is already doing.

On Wednesday we went out to the study communities to hold informational meetings with community leaders and community members, and to do some inventory in the local schools. The first thing we do is look up the community leader (and if he/she isn’t around, the vice-leader).

Meeting with community leader

Meeting with community leader

(That’s me in the pink shirt.)  Myself and another new team member, a biologist from Bolivia, were introduced.  We gave updates on what was going on in the project and what we needed to do in the community during this visit.  Then we coordinated with the leaders to organize a community meeting for the following day so we could relay the same information to community members and address any concerns or questions.

The next day we came back at the appointed time to meet with community members at a school or church (this building happened to be both a school and church):

 Community meetingCommunity meeting

News that there is going to be a meeting is passed around the day before, and then a gong/bell/some other noise-making device is sounded to summon people before the meeting starts.  People tend to trickle in to the meeting rather slowly and I spent a lot of time shaking hands and greeting people as they joined us.

A representative from the community (usually someone from one of the more prestigious positions in the community, i.e. a community leader, teacher, health promoter or pastor) helps translate for us.  Nobody asked any questions about my project, but there was a really great moment in one of the meetings where an older man spoke up in support of my project and urged community members to cooperate and be honest in their answers.  It was awesome.

We only made it to three of the four communities because the road to the last community was much, much worse than what we’d already been driving on.  And what we were driving on caused us to almost slide into the ditch a few times:

Muddy roads and full ditches

We almost slid into the ditch a few times!

I saw some pictures from a Doctors Without Borders expedition in the Chaco last week, and they had it worse: they did end up in the ditch!  It was raining off and on during our entire trip, including the drive back to Asuncion

Raining in the Chaco

Raining way off in the distance in the Chaco

Despite the weather, it was a really great trip.  My proposed study was well received by community members, I have contact information for all the community leaders and health promoters, and I have a good idea of what logistics will be involved in my surveying.  And because my colleagues in CEDIC are excellent travel companions, we also had a lot of fun!