Barbara Grannell, Executive Director of A Promise of Health
Poor places in the world desperately need healthcare. Homeopathy can easily and correctly fill that need without an immense financial investment. It was this fundamental realization 16 years ago that propelled Barbara and Bill Grannell into action. Together they co-founded A Promise of Health in 2001. This is a unique story about homeopathy in action, taking place in the indigenous rural communities of southern Mexico. After years of proven success, it can serve as a model for other locations worldwide. It takes place every day in a small Zapotec village called Ayoquezco de Aldama. Located in rural Oaxaca, Mexico, Ayoquezco de Aldama is the hub for 14 smaller, surrounding villages. All are located about a 1½ hour drive south of the capital, Oaxaca City, yet these villages are a world apart from the big city and its tourism.
Barbara Grannell Bill Grannell
For years, people who lived in this region grew tobacco. But after the local factory closed down and the agrochemicals used to grow tobacco had ruined the land for other crops, most of the male population was forced to look for work outside the community. As a result, around 65% of the population of Ayoquezco migrated to northern Mexico and the U.S. They left behind women, their children, families too timid to leave and those that called Ayoquezco home and didn’t want to leave despite economic hardships.
This is a story about a dedicated woman doctor (herself a Mixteca Indian) treating her patients with homeopathy under a healthcare program developed by A Promise of Health, a small U.S. charity that has been providing homeopathic healthcare in Mexico’s rural indigenous communities for 15 years. It is an organization that has heard all of the tired old promises of Mexico’s politicos and seen first-hand the absence of meaningful healthcare in the rural villages. For years, Mexico’s government has talked and talked about bringing healthcare to rural, out-of-the –way places. But the bare reality is that these under-served indigenous people, who possess no political power, have little to no help of any kind.
Indigenous people all across Mexico have historically been the have-nots. Conditions today are no different. In Oaxaca, indigenous people live in the poorest regions. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Mexican Federal Government promised a doctor and healthcare for every village. It then constructed Casas de Salud, Houses of Health, all across the country. Their plan was to fill them with doctors. It never happened. Today, many of these buildings stand empty, run down, still waiting for the promise.
The states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatan and Guerrero are among the least developed in the country. These states coincidently hold the highest numbers of indigenous population. These communities suffer particularly from poverty causing them to be marginalized from society. Studies have shown that ethnicity is an important cause for inequality in income distribution, access to basic health care services and education. In turn, this explains the significant difference in earnings between indigenous and non-indigenous people. According to the World Bank, about three-quarters of indigenous peoples in Oaxaca are poor and the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous groups is growing.
Money sent home by migrants has become stagnant as a result of a poor U.S. economy. Subsequently, in Oaxaca today, 75 percent of the indigenous population lives in poverty and 39 percent of these live in conditions of extreme poverty. Communities like Ayoquezco de Aldama are not likely to see any economic improvement soon.
Given the conditions of poverty and the lack of any real and affordable healthcare, what is to be done?
The Mexican government’s pronouncements of a new and better healthcare system is a hollow promise that never reaches these rural indigenous areas. Charities offering an allopathic solution cannot afford the costs nor supply the medications required of such a program. Individual private physicians steer clear of these small communities knowing full well they have more opportunities for greater income in Mexico’s large urban areas.
The fact is, if the goal is to provide safe, low cost yet effective healthcare that can be made available to this group of consumers, HOMEOPATHY is the only health science that makes sense.
Is such a program acceptable to the rural indigenous communities? The answer is a resounding YES. Mexico has a rich history of homeopathy (more than 100 years) and has played a pioneering role in the successful rise of homeopathy worldwide. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s homeopathy flourished throughout Mexico. Schools of Homeopathic Medicine and Homeopathic hospitals thrived, some of them in existence today. Laboratories producing homeopathic medicine were established and some continue today including world famous Laboratorios de Propulsora, the manufacturer of Similia Homeopathic medicine. Early homeopathic pioneers recognized the benefit of homeopathy for everyone, especially the poor and marginalized. Homeopathic clinics popped up at that time in rural Yucatan, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. Though the clinics have long disappeared, the people who benefited from homeopathic medicine did not forget.
There can only be one rational conclusion. Rural Oaxaca and all of southern Mexico needs the basic foundation of Homeopathy for safe, effective, low cost everyday health care. Conditions demand it and Mexico’s history supports it!
That is how and why it all started…
A Promise of Health launched its first homeopathic program in Mexico in July, 2001, in the small village of Huhi, a rural Maya pueblo in southwestern Yucatan. With the help of a highly skilled, generous homeopathic doctor from Merida (the capital city) and 2 boxes of various homeopathic remedies, our organization opened a Saturday clinic. The doctor, who was contemplating retirement and only worked part time, had always wanted to help the indigenous Maya, but he didn’t speak the native language or have a clue how to do it. Thankfully, the professional backgrounds of Barbara and Bill as veteran “on the ground” organizers with political savvy, were just what the doctor ordered!
A Promise of Health’s first day was a harbinger of what was to come! Early that first morning after 2 weeks of village sound trucks, flyers and many knocks on doors, a long line of people stretched out of the makeshift clinic into the street and each Saturday thereafter the clinic was crowded with patients. Because of the rush, it was only a short time before the program added a day. At the end of the second year A Promise of Health served 5 villages and drew patients from many more.
A Promise of Health is a small but resilient US based charity. It has been 16 years since the couple first believed it was possible to bring homeopathic healthcare to Mexico’s rural indigenous villages in a safe, effective and affordable manner. Little did they know in 2001 (the launch date) that their projects were destined to touch tens of thousands of lives for the better and today continue to offer that promise.
The promise simply stated is this, “In many parts of the world, simple good health, with Homeopathy as a foundation, can be a commodity in which everyone can share.”
It wasn’t long before A Promise of Health had added 5 more homeopathic doctors and was serving 25 Maya communities in rural Yucatan. Over the next 7 years, the organization’s doctors treated more than 65,000 patients and dispensed over 100,000 high quality homeopathic medicines made in Mexico! During this time the doctors lived in the rural communities they served, traveling each day to outlying villages in a model created by A Promise of Health. In Yucatan, Promise of Health doctors treated anything that came along, which ended up being approximately 92 categories for chronic and acute illnesses, both physical and mental.
A Promise of Health Clinic in Ayoquezco, Oaxaca, Mexico
As it turned out, in this first of its kind, highly successful homeopathic program in rural Mexico, indigenous people showed a natural understanding and acceptance for Homeopathy. For the most part, they trusted the process. An added advantage beyond its effectiveness to cure was that homeopathic medicine was affordable to purchase and unlike allopathic medicine, had no side effects. A Promise of Health’s tried and true model became a near perfect fit for the enormous problem and challenge of desperately needed every day healthcare, a problem that has been systemic in rural indigenous Mexico for generations.
By December, 2008, A Promise of Health thought its work was possibly done. It had been intensive, hard, mental and physical work. It necessitated Barbara and Bill practically living full time in Merida for 7 years with constant travel to villages to insure program viability. They also traveled to Mexico City to procure homeopathic medicine and interview doctors from its medical schools. During that time, the Grannells lived in Merida in a small 100 year old rock house that they had purchased and rebuilt. It was originally intended as a winter retreat/art studio for Bill. But, from the beginning, it became the volunteer headquarters for A Promise of Health. The couple was blessed and challenged far beyond anything they ever imagined. After 7 years of constant focused attention, it was time for someone else or a local organization, to take responsibility and move the idea forward. What became of that dream is another story altogether. As it turned out, there was little time for rest and lengthy reflection. The time had not yet come for A Promise of Health to stop working. After hearing of our pioneering work in Yucatan, a loud cry for help was coming from one of Mexico’s poorest states, Oaxaca.
In 2009, Bill Grannell, while attending a one day health conference in Mexico City, was approached by a former national deputy from Oaxaca. The deputy, upon hearing of A Promise of Health’s work in Yucatan said this was exactly what was needed in Oaxaca’s rural indigenous villages. Armed with the frightful statistics of poverty in villages, disease and infant mortality higher than most of Latin America, it moved Bill to immediately consider a program for Oaxaca.
Barbara Grannell realized from her experiences in Yucatan that the organization could and should not go it alone. To sustain the program, the organization would need allies. Why not enlist U.S. migrants from Oaxaca, she reasoned. Migrant groups, organized into “hometown” clubs existed throughout the U.S. These, she reasoned, have a real stake in the health of their communities back home. The next step was to the groups, present the project as A Promise of Health did in Yucatan and let the chips fall where they may. In this case, the group that immediately came to the forefront was a US migrant group representing the community of Ayoquezco de Aldama. It fit the bill. Though it had a Casa de Salud (House of Health) that was occasionally visited by the state’s doctors and nurses, it had no permanent health facility to assist the poor.
Ayoquezco is a Zapotec community. Zapotecs are one of the largest indigenous groups in the state of Oaxaca. Dependent mostly upon agriculture, they are also one of the poorest. The need for a healthcare clinic to serve this community was evident. More importantly, it had a market day each week that drew into it residents from other nearby villages. This would then become A Promise of Health’s base in Oaxaca.
What followed were the same organizational skills that A Promise of Health used in Yucatan. After the migrant group committed to partner, on the ground negotiations in Ayoquezco had to take place. With the help of the migrant organization, the municipal government agreed to donate an old Casa de Salud building next to the municipal palace for the clinic. Filled with debris and in need of repairs, the next step was to convince the municipal government to provide labor and materials to make the building livable for a doctor and to have space for the clinic itself. While those efforts were going on, Bill Grannell was back in Mexico, in Ayoquezco and Oaxaca City, looking for a homeopathic doctor who could vigorously and successfully launch the Oaxaca program.
From experience, A Promise of Health knew that it was difficult to coax a doctor from his or her comfortable circumstances in a large city. It was no different in Oaxaca. After making an appeal to the graduate school of homeopathic medicine in Oaxaca City, the only doctors who came forward were either those who were in retirement and lacked the vigor or commitment to the program, or they wanted to bend the rules of the program so they could continue to live in the city and either commute or have the patients, who had no money for transportation, commute to see them. The exception was a young woman, Dr. Soledad Ramirez Medina, who was married to an Oaxaca policeman and had two very young children. Impossible as it seems, she fit the bill.
In a face to face interview with Bill Grannell, Dr. Soledad was enthusiastic for the program. She said that she wanted to live in a rural community where her children could experience the same quiet life and values she had enjoyed growing up. She was a Mixteca (the 2nd largest indigenous group in Oaxaca). From her experiences, she knew the challenges that face people living in these circumstances. As a homeopathic physician she possessed the needed qualifications. As a human being she possessed the kind and caring personality needed to truly help the people!
Dr. Soledad was first trained as an allopathic physician and practiced medicine in the capital city of Oaxaca. After experiencing firsthand the amazing healing properties of homeopathy, her career took a sharp turn. Studying at the graduate school of homeopathic medicine at Oaxaca’s university for 3 years, she became an avid proponent of homeopathy and exclusively began its practice using only homeopathic diagnosis and remedies.
On April 1, 2010, Dr. Soledad Ramirez Medina became the Promise of Health sponsored doctor for their health program in rural Oaxaca.
The week before the opening of the clinic, Dr. Soledad moved her entire family to Ayoquezco de Aldama. It was a considerable sacrifice to move her young family into the small, cramped quarters in the medical building that had been donated by the municipal government of Ayoquezco. But like all things she and her husband, Arturo, do, they did it with grace and a rare enthusiasm. Today they live in 4 rooms of the clinic. The front 2 rooms serve as the health clinic.
On opening day, the Ayoquezco clinic mimicked that of the first Yucatan clinic. A large crowd began gathering before daybreak though the clinic was not scheduled to open until 9 a.m. With more people than she could see in a day, patient’s names were taken and scheduled for the next day.
Today, in the program’s 7th year there, things run more smoothly. On average Dr. Soledad consults with 62 patients each week. Always active and on the go, she sees patients, checks medical supplies and communicates weekly with A Promise of Health on the state of its Oaxaca program. Arturo, her husband, has left the Oaxaca police department and is a full time partner, helping with homeopathic medicine supplies and parenting their children.
Dr. Soledad is more than a doctor. For Dr. Soledad, her focus is not only on her patients. She is concerned with the overall health of the communities she serves. She has organized village meetings to discuss general health concerns and homeopathic medicine. She has instructed children in schools on hygiene and nutrition. Professionally she remains active in association with her fellow doctors who are all graduates of the homeopathic advanced program at the University of Oaxaca. She is a tireless advocate for A Promise of Health and its program in Oaxaca. She has spoken about her work at a homeopathic congress in Mazatlan and joined A Promise of Health directors in an invitation to speak to professors of medicine at the University of Oaxaca. Proudly of Mixteca heritage, Dr. Soledad wants to see A Promise of Health’s program grow to include more indigenous people including the Mixteca, a population that has been marginalized for decades.
A Few Days in the Life of Dr. Soledad from Her Diary
Each week, as part of the program, Dr. Soledad writes in her weekly report a running diary of her activities and her patients. A glimpse at some recent entries (copywrited by Promise of Health) gives the reader a sense of what her life has become. In July, 2016, she wrote, “In Oaxaca, the rains have started. Some days are cloudy and cool, some days there is heavy rain with wind and unexpected turbulence. Today, as I sit in the small Internet café in Ayoquezco to send my report, sometimes the service fades in and out. I write my report and when I try to send it, it is lost and I have to try over and over again.”
Think of her frustration, persistence and dedication to communicate, after a long day of seeing patients. She then goes home to fix dinner for her family, many times only to find that the electricity has failed once again in the storm. How long will it be out this time?
Another time she wrote, “The teachers are still protesting across Oaxaca. Many roads are blocked and there is violence. We have tried to purchase more medicine bottles in Oaxaca City but road closures have kept many suppliers from bringing their merchandise to town. This weekend, Arturo and I will scour the city for any pharmacy supplier that has plastic bottles needed for our medicine.”
On her return she wrote, “We had to take the long way home to Ayoquezco because of problems in Zimitlan. Cars were burning and the road was closed. We went through several check points. I pray the unrest will end soon.”
About her patients she writes: “Today I want to comment on a case I have been treating for several weeks. It was a very sad case. It is of an old man from the community of San Martin, whose wife brought him for consultation. She was in great despair for not finding a cure for his sufferings of many years. At our first consultation, she told me that over the years, her husband had visited many doctors. He had taken many different medicines and his wife prepared for him home treatments but nothing had worked. He has had no improvement. She told me that when he eats he cannot swallow and feels as though he will drown. For that reason he starves himself. I could see his eyes were full of tears and he feels very full of anger. By not eating he has many complications. He told me he prefers to just die rather than to continue on. When questioning his wife, she says he is often violent and attacks her verbally. He is impatient and he screams and has hit her. It is all very sad. They told me that they live alone and don’t have the resources to continue to consult with doctors. I offered them my help and my prayers that their lives shall improve. I then gave him a remedy that I prescribed that I trusted would heal almost all of his nuisances. Now, following 3 more consultations, they have returned to tell me how much the old man has improved. He can now swallow his food and his fear is fading. His wife tells me that his anger is disappearing. They told me how grateful they are and now they have regained their faith and trust that their lives will be better.”
Another time she writes, “On this day in Ayoquezco I saw a patient for the third occasion. Her name is Janeth and she is 28 years old. She is from this community. She has been very much affected by her first baby’s death. A lot of time has passed without her being able to be able to get pregnant. Today, to my surprise, she told me she is now pregnant (about 3 week gestation according to ultrasound studies she has shown me). She is very happy to have achieved this and her first question was if the remedy I had been prescribing for depression would affect the child during its gestation. My answer was the same I have given other patients. Homeopathic medicine will not affect her pregnancy except that it will continue to improve her quality of life and thereby the life of her unborn child. She told me she is very grateful and pleased with her pregnancy which she believes is the result of her treatment. Her depression is gone and in its place is joy for tomorrow.”
And so it goes, day after day, week after week, month after month. The Promise of Health clinic is open 5 days a week, with emergencies always seen at any time.
Despite the many challenges constantly swirling around her, each Monday, when patients come to the clinic, Dr. Soledad will sit patiently, with an open heart and mind, listening intently. From her patient’s perspective, they are the only people that matter in that moment — a pivotal moment when their healing can begin or continue to emerge.
Since A Promise of Health’s homeopathic healthcare model began operating in Oaxaca in April, 2010, nearly 21,000 patient visits have been logged in our health clinics which serve 14 rural communities! Add to this hygiene and nutrition education in the schools, public education about how homeopathy works, partnerships with the local municipalities, living in the rural community she serves…. and you have a highly successful safe, effective, low cost everyday healthcare model!
Certainly, all of southern Mexico and the entire southern Hemisphere need many more projects like the Promise of Health program happening in Oaxaca. Time will tell if others step forward to do what has been achieved in Yucatan and Oaxaca. A Promise of Health is willing to consult with anyone inspired to act. In the meantime, A Promise of Health will continue its program in rural Oaxaca.
We leave the reader to ponder this…
Dr. Samuel Hahnemann brought to the world through his book the Organon of Medicine, the basis for all we are about with homeopathy. As he theorized, perhaps we can spend less time debating and analyzing. Instead, we can spend more time putting homeopathic knowledge into action on the front lines of poverty, making sick people healthy.
Post Script by Douglas Brown CCH, RSHom(NA)
In November 2013, I had the opportunity to travel with Bill and Barb Grannell and Larry Vollman, another Board member, to Ayoquezco, Oaxaca, to visit with Dr. Soledad, her family, and see the A Promise of Health clinic in action (see photo).
I sat with her in small, poorly ventilated crowded dusty rooms while one patient after another came in with conditions such as arthritis, psoriasis, diabetes, and chronic pain. Accustomed as I am to a comfortable office, I marveled at Dr. Soledad’s endurance and resourcefulness. The vast majority of patients who were returning for follow-ups related substantial improvements in their health and well-being from the prescribed remedies. I was struck with how quickly Dr. Soledad could come to a prescription, and how the vast majority of patients were successfully treated with well-known polychrest remedies. This was a practice that was very different from my own, but clearly was working wonders. It is appropriate technology at its finest.
As a homeopath and educator I am very interested in the relationship between socio-cultural and economic factors and the states of consciousness that underlie chronic disease. Put more simply: Why might one group of remedies work so successfully in one setting, but are rarely indicated in another? As a member of the Board of A Promise of Health, I am very interested in how the success of this model might be sustained, and hopefully replicated elsewhere. As Barb Grannell points out, a significant step for building support for the clinic entailed the enlistment of migrant “hometown” clubs here in the United States. Bill and Barb also worked very hard, and with frequent disappointments and frustrations, to keep local governments honest in following through with their commitments to provide adequate clinic space and support. These struggles continue.
The current success of A Promise of Health rests very much on the heroic person of Dr. Soledad and the untiring labor of Barb and Bill Grannell. This is a strength of the organization, but also a weakness of the model. Dr. Soledad is unique in her combination of passion, commitment, talent, and endurance. For the work of A Promise of Health to continue and to expand, we must find ways to give affected communities more ownership of the health care they deserve, and find ways to educate, motivate, and support more homeopaths to serve in the most marginalized communities.
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