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Spending Time in Her Shoes

The experience of life in the developed world is very different from that of the developing world. How can western health educators understand the lives of the people they serve? They need personal knowledge of the daily challenges that people in the local community face.

Preparing Westerner Health Educators for the Developing World

We have found an extremely valuable tool for training health educators. For a few days, they must assume the responsibilities of a young mother in a developing country. It is always an eye-opening experience. They live, eat, and sleep in the community as well as carrying the burden of a young mother. After this, they are much better qualified to speak into her life.

Before educators can speak to a young mother, telling her she must boil all water for drinking and other such tasks, they must understand how hard her life already is and what they are adding to it. Once they take on the burdens of caring for children, making food from scratch over an open fire, collecting wood, sometimes making charcoal, washing clothes in the river, and bathing in the river, they soon realize that health education is more complex than they thought.

We need to help mothers develop strategies to meet the health needs of their families in the context of their incredibly difficult lives. We need to listen and observe and not try to impose our solutions. In truth, the average western volunteer has little understanding of the lives of local people. The process begins with listening, observing, and learning. This must happen before sharing the vital information that will improve her family’s well-being.

There is an old community development saying that goes, “There is more to be caught than taught.” Sharing our lives with local people and demonstrating positive health practices will go further to help people understand what change could look like than any lecture. This saying is something we need to take to heart in both curative care missions work and disease prevention initiatives. We always need to start as learners, not teachers.

Training Local Community Educators

The ideal health education program is similar to the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) model where the focus is on training community educators, not the general population. Volunteers then serve and support the work and efforts of those educators. Then, those educators can work alongside future healthcare groups.

Many international groups that include health education as part of each patient encounter do this without even realizing it. By the end of one or two weeks, their translators are experienced educators for the community. However, it goes without saying this is better to accomplish this using a more intentional approach rather than hoping it will happen by accident.

There are many health education programs and curriculums available.

  • Health Education Programs for Developing Countries is an exceptional evidence based resource for teaching in exam rooms by healthcare professionals (
  • Health Books International has other important training materials for volunteers and for the community ( This is a UK-based program that was formerly known as Teaching Aids at Low Cost (TALC).
  • The Global CHE network is an excellent resource ( Completing a CHE Training of Trainers course is great first step to gaining competence in community facilitation.
  • The Hesperian Foundation has a wide range of resources available for community-based programs ( They are also an excellent resource for groups that would like to help the community create their own health education materials. All of the Hesperian publication illustrations are now available for download along with templates for creating posters and brochures. We highly recommend that global projects evaluate these resources and make the Hesperian resources and their website known to coworkers in developing countries. Their resources are available in many languages, and because of their vast image library, the resources are adaptable to various local cultures.



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