The state of Chiapas is geographically a large and diverse area which spans dramatic mountainous regions, dense tropical rain forest and coastal zones. The often unpaved roads are notoriously bad and, for many who live in outlying areas; communities are accessible only by foot. For individuals residing in these communities, there is little or no access to an outside health care system. As a result, health care concerns are most often addressed by some individual within the community who has assumed responsibility for addressing these needs. The role of “curanderas” and other traditional healers is very much alive and well in indigenous Chiapas. These individuals typically have some knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs, are likely to function as midwife and may be imbued by their community with some magical power to do good or evil.
The Chiapas insurrection and the development of the Zapatista autonomous health care system has added a new and valuable element to the “continuum” of health care services available in these remote indigenous villages. The Zapatista model of developing autonomous services relies on the training of promoters. (They are opposed to the use of what they see as the more hierarchical label of doctor or teacher to describe the role. For more information about the role of a promoter click here.) In small, remote, rural communities, the Zapatista trained health care promoter often has had access to formal inservice training that exceeds anything that has ever before been available in the comunity.
Consistent with the idea of training “promotores”, is a belief that everyone has something to contribute to the understanding and teaching of every subject and that learning is enhanced when everyone’s perspective and experiences are valued. In this spirit, the Zapatista trained health promoters work with traditional community to promote a higher level of health care for all.