Matilde Quispe Machaca is the only community health worker in her community, Yanamayo, which sits more than 13,000 feet above sea level in the Peruvian Andes. Yanamayo is a small, agricultural community that is 3 hours by car (or 18 hours on foot) from the nearest health center, and Matilde is the most knowledgeable resource for her community when it comes to health education, disease prevention, and promoting healthy behaviors.

We recently visited Matilde in Yanamayo to give her updated information and resources about COVID, and we talked with her about her experience during the pandemic.  “When I first found out about coronavirus” she said, “I was really worried. I didn’t leave or go to any other communities because I was really afraid.”  

Matilde told us that there were a number of community meetings in Yanamayo during March and April to decide how to confront the situation with the virus and the ensuing pandemic. Yanamayo decided to take drastic measures and close its doors to the outside world until further notice. 

Matilde took on the responsibility of providing health education to her community. Neither Matilde nor the rest of the world knew much about this new virus at that point. Nevertheless, she extrapolated from information she was hearing on the radio that it was a very contagious disease that affected the respiratory system, so she decided to teach her neighbors what she had learned as a promotora about preventing and treating respiratory illnesses. She also reinforced preventative behaviors she has taught over the years, like hand washing.

While admiring the beautiful snow-capped views and reviewing new COVID information, Matilde shared her enthusiasm with us. “My neighbors are eager to learn about the coronavirus, and I’m happy to be able to teach them.” Matilde loves to share her health knowledge with the rest of her community even though, she tells us, before the pandemic, the majority of the people in Yanamayo weren’t very interested in adopting preventative behaviors. For example, when Matilde taught about handwashing in the past, her neighbors responded, “Why would I wash my hands if when I die, I will become part of the earth again?”

Since the pandemic, Matilde says her community has a better context for understanding preventative health, and this has made her job as a health educator more effective. She told us about an example she noticed during the potato harvest this year: “People came to help each other with their harvests, like always, but this year each family brought their own food instead of sharing the communal meal to help prevent the spread of infection.” 

Luckily, COVID has not yet reached the remote community of Yanamayo, but it has shown us that the need for knowledgeable health workers in these marginalized communities is now greater than ever. 

Click below to join us in our Resiliency Campaign to support Matilde and other promotoras like her who are facing this pandemic as the frontline health workers for their community.

When you donate between now and December 31, your gift will be matched up to $25,000!