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Advocacy Works: Training Agents of Change in Communities

Community members brainstorm to imagine their ideal health center.
Community members brainstorm to imagine their ideal health center.

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“Lack of medicine.”

“Handwritten receipts.”

“No psychologist or social worker.”

Across Tegucigalpa, Honduras, community members are auditing their local public health centers, documenting findings and standing up for their right to quality health care.

Local health centers address minor injuries, distribute basic medicines, and offer other medical services such as prenatal care. For millions of Hondurans who can’t afford private hospitals, the centers are the first line of defense. But many centers fall short of meeting patients’ needs. 

When millions of Hondurans don’t have sufficient access to the medicine and health care they need, it’s a sign of a deep injustice. It’s also an opportunity for transformation.

When millions of Hondurans don’t have sufficient access to the medicine and health care they need, it’s a sign of a deep injustice. It’s also an opportunity for transformation.

In an effort to improve health care in Honduras, the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) is working alongside the people who are intimately familiar with the centers’ successes and failings.

“It’s the people from the community who make the best auditors,” said Blanca Munguía, director of AJS’s community auditing program, “They know details about the center, who works there, when they show up.”

Community members have detailed knowledge about their local health centers, but sometimes don’t realize what standards the centers aren’t meeting.

In four communities in Tegucigalpa, AJS is addressing this by training community members about what good health care should look like, including all the staff, tools, and services they should see in their own health centers. AJS staff then teach participants how to compare the center to the national standard, and note any other observations or recommendations.  

AJS staff help connect community members to the administrators of their local health centers, and obtain permission for their auditing visits. After their audits, and a debriefing with AJS’s health and anti-corruption experts, community members then work directly with administrators to develop detailed plans for improvement for the center.

These groups of concerned citizens, ranging in age from teenagers to great-grandparents, don’t only criticize. On the contrary, “Our health center is good. They’ll see you and help you with your problems,” said one social auditor, “But it can always be better.”

By enlisting the active support of the community, says Blanca Munguía, they can “change the culture” of public health to one of transparency and accountability.

“What you audit,” she tells local volunteers, “You make better.” 

The idea that accountability strengthens public services is one that’s close to AJS’s heart.

The idea that accountability strengthens public services is one that’s close to AJS’s heart.

The Association for a More Just Society has frequently called out injustice in Honduras’ health sector, uncovering evidence of corruption and mismanagement at the highest levels of medicine purchasing, storage, and delivery.

The Honduran health system has started to change thanks to this advocacy. For example, medicine purchasing is now taking place more transparently, which means that the government can purchase more supplies for less money, reaching more sick people who desperately need treatment. But advocacy need not take place at the national level to bring about meaningful change. AJS is working towards a culture in Honduras where citizens will feel comfortable demanding accountability from every level of government.  

AJS’s mission is to be “Brave Christians, dedicated to making systems of laws and government work to do justice, particularly for the poor and vulnerable in Honduras.” This mission is deeply rooted in Biblical commands such as Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

However, AJS has found that when given the right platform, many people who appear to be unable to speak for themselves can actually speak loudly and clearly.

However, AJS has found that when given the right platform, many people who appear to be unable to speak for themselves can actually speak loudly and clearly.

In the communities where AJS works, individuals are able to be more than beneficiaries – they are active agents in improving the services that affect their lives and the lives of their families.

Together, these community auditors have come together to increase access to health care, hold local leaders accountable, and make their society more just.

How can you get a meeting with your representative or write an effective letter? Check out Biblical Advocacy 101 on the Office of Social Justice's Action Center. Canadian and American versions are available. 

 

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