Katherine Corcoran | October 10, 2018
JALTENANGO de la PAZ, Mexico — Lauren O’Connell commutes to her job over single-lane dirt roads that hug the mountains of Mexico’s southern Chiapas state. The driver carries a machete to clear the path after a storm. In the rainy season, the four-wheel-drive truck sometimes has to jostle and slide through deep mud pits on stretches where a false move could send the vehicle and everyone in it over a steep cliff.
The recent Notre Dame graduate works without cellphone service or internet and at times sleeps on concrete floors under a mosquito net. Her mission: to bring health education to a forgotten area of one of Mexico’s poorest states.
She is part of the acompañante (accompaniment) program, training community health workers who monitor chronic diseases and mental and maternal health in marginalized villages, where not long ago there were only sporadic visits from roving doctors.
Through a fellowship with Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies, O’Connell is spending this school year with Compañeros en Salud, the Mexico arm of the Harvard-based Partners In Health, where accompaniment is a fundamental part of delivering services to the poor. The idea is that a health care system is not made up of providers and patients. Rather, the patient, doctor, community health worker and an entire support system that includes people like O’Connell work as a team until the disease is cured or under control.
“It’s an awesome, contagious group with a lot of energy,” said O’Connell, 22, who graduated in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and pre-health studies. “Even the acompañantes. They live alongside their patients and sometimes have less or as little as their patients, and they’re like, ‘We need to do our best to provide health services to our community.’”
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