A Community Guide To Environmental Health (Guide), published by Hesperian and now available online, is one of the most comprehensive guides empowering communities to deal with environmental health issues in the 21st century. The Guide has taken over a decade to develop as researchers scoured the globe for the best practices. The examples come from the help and input of over 300 communities in over 33 countries. The Guide is a follow-up to one of Hesperian's earlier works Where There is No Doctor which aided communities, particularly in the developing world in dealing with public health issues. The researchers realized that while communities needed help building latrines and finding safe drinking water, they (and are) increasingly needed help with issues like toxins and cancers and thus there needed to be a follow-up guide. So the researchers set out to talk with over 300 communities and draft up responses, which were then sent back into the communities for field testing. Results were sent back and forth several times until the most practical and useful 'solutions' were developed into a final book and any of the first responses sent 5-6 years ago were also updated.
In reading the Guide, one is immediately struck by the fact that this book is a step by step guide for how to start tackling issue that may seem very overwhelming, like how an indigenous community might begin to fight a major corporation intent on opening a copper mine right in the middle of their community. The guide begins by telling the community to keep asking "But why?" in order to get to the root causes, as there are often more than one that lead to the current situation.
Other steps for getting started include, adopting a very multi-dimensional approach to the issue. Asking that participants look at everyone's role in causing the situation and also how events that may have taken place years ago led to the downgraded situation and ultimately to the disease or whatever other infestation inflicted the community.
The contributors realized that many of the communities don't have access to resources, for example, the groups acknowledged that its important to have respiratory equipment when working with pesticides, these devices are often 'too big, too small or broken if the community ever sees them at all'. So, the writers decided to use the book to help communities to be resourceful, including the step-by-step description for how to make facemasks by cutting a bra in half.
Other helpful tips include not blaming individual members but rather focusing on getting people healthy so they can contribute and getting both elderly and young involved — elderly because they have historical knowledge and young so they will feel involved. Also, starting with small goals to get victories and feel empowered and then work towards organizational change, all of which the Guide explains how to do. Each chapter is an environmental health topic, including healthy homes, toxins, watersheds, pesticides, environmental justice, as well as using the law to help you reach your goals.
This guide, while helpful for the developing world, is also geared towards urban communities in the developed world as well. The authors also required that each chapter included a woman-only group example. Currently the book is available in English and Spanish and the publishers are working directly with several groups to get funding and resources to have it translated into their native tongue.
According to Jeff Conant, one of the contributors to A Community Guide, 'It's important as we go green to remember that one of the biggest impacts of the ecological crisis is the direct health impacts on the poorest and most marginalized in our world.' That is essentially what this book is about and who it is for.
Hesperian is a non-profit publishing company unlike most publishing companies. All of its works are available with an open copy-right policy whereby anyone can download and use the materials, so long as they are not used for sale or profit. All of Hesperian's materials are developed with the developing world in mind and written in a format whereby anyone can read and understand them, and to that end they use lots of visuals and pictures the get their message across. Their most popular work, Where There Is No Doctor, has been translated to over 100 languages, distributed widely by the World Health Organization and given to every Peace Corps volunteer as part of their core curriculum.
::A Community Guide To Environmental Health
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