Here in Campbell River, residents might best know the local Tula Foundation for its Hakai Institute, committed to coastal ecological research and education. But a second initiative making waves in a community half a world away could inform responses to healthcare challenges right here in British Columbia.
Tula Health was founded two decades ago to find innovative strategies to improve health, reduce poverty and build social justice and equity in marginalized communities around the world.
Working initially with the Canadian International Development Agency and the Centre for Nursing Studies in Newfoundland, the initiative aimed to train a critical mass of auxiliary nurses – similar to Canada’s licensed practical nurses – living in remote communities in Guatemala that often lacked basic health services, explains Eric Peterson, co-founder and director of the Tula Foundation. Beyond poverty and the rural nature of the communities, the situation in the country had been further worsened by the lengthy civil war that plagued the country for decades.
Getting training and healthcare where it was needed
Working in the Indigenous Mayan region where the first language of many people is one of Guatemala’s 22 Mayan dialects, the initiative embraced a distance education model that combines internet-based lectures in Spanish with local classroom instruction in the local Mayan language. All graduates were guaranteed jobs as auxiliary nurses in the public health system near their home communities – ultimately providing both healthcare and employment.
Today, the Guatemalan team runs their program independently under the Guatemalan non-profit organization, TulaSalud, and has trained about 1,300 auxiliary nurses over 10 years. Renewed support from the World Bank now gives TulaSalud the opportunity to launch a second round of training, with the aim of training another 1,300 nurses, Peterson says.
Balancing cultural issues, education and medical needs, the team incorporates practitioners like Mayan midwives, for example, to address issues like early pregnancy. The nurses are fluent in both Spanish – the language used in the training – and their community’s Indigenous language, ensuring they can connect with locals, where they live.
With the easing of COVID restrictions, Peterson was able to return to Guatemala for a first-hand look at how the program had blossomed.
As he reflected on those successes and the challenges facing many of British Columbia’s rural communities, the time seemed right to showcase the program here at home.
“Are there things we could learn from the things people are doing in Guatemala? They work so well with such limited resources, and work with such a spirit, it really is inspiring,” Peterson says. “Maybe we can use it as a catalyst for things we’re doing here.”
Learn more May 25
Peterson will share more about the highlights of the program during a public talk, May 25 at the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Centre. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the presentation beginning at 7 p.m.
To learn more, visit tulahealth.org