By Marissa Bergh
Can you imagine walking the streets of a neighborhood you don’t know, in 105° weather without shade for two hours? No? Neither could we, and yet that was our reality today. It was very uncomfortable, our scrubs soaked in sweat, and our 1 liter water bottles quickly depleting. While it was a challenge to say the least, we remained focused on the task at hand, because successfully completing a windshield survey is a key piece to any community assessment, as it allows us to gain a glimpse into the reality of people’s lives in Emiliano Zapata.
As community health providers, it would be impossible to provide care for a community without understanding the conditions in which they live, and the community they inhabit. For example, we found that many of the markets only sold a handful of fresh vegetables, and the vegetables that were sold were very expensive, thus it would be irresponsible for us to tell people that they need 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day for their kids to be healthy.
As we jotted down our observations (i.e. the number of food marts, the cost of food, the types of houses, family gardens, water reservoirs, handicap access, etc.) we were mostly greeted by kind faces, and welcoming voices. A generous woman even offered us some homemade, and refreshing popsicles (for a discounted 10 pesos). Throughout our day, we were pleased to find that many people in the community had access to some form clean water (though many still didn’t), and that family gardens were still somewhat common (hope for a future community garden!!!). Like many food deserts here in the US, the biggest frustration remained the access to healthy food. There were very few food markets in the community and the majority of the food being sold were filled with fat, sodium, and sugar. Food stalls filled with snow cones, candy, and fried pork rinds waited for the children as they exited the school for their lunch break.
Cross-contamination also remains a concern in the community, with many stands displaying raw meat on hooks above the produce (dripping its juice in the meantime), and store owners handling meat while stocking shelves at the same time.
While we are here, a few of us will work on compiling all of the information we are gathering into one report to use in a formal grant request, so hopefully we can get funding for future trips to Mérida in order to further support Victor and his visions for Hogares Mana, and the underserved communities within Mérida.